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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Thursday (10/22/15) 10:50pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

[missed a month!  eep!]

Books:  <none>
Movies:  Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Martian
TV:  Good Eats [season 2], Last Week Tonight [season 1]
Other: Nell Gwynn (The Globe)

Kingsman: The Secret Service
This is the 2015 Matthew Vaughn comic adaptation in which a suave British superspy (Colin Firth) has to train a rookie spy from the streets.

So I'm flying back from the UK.  I can't sleep.  I have been playing countless games of Bejeweled on the in-flight entertainment system.  And I finally think to myself, "No.  This is a silly waste of time.  I'm going to do something cultural.  I'm going to do something thoughtful.  I'm going to watch... a film.  I've barely seen any movies lately!  This is a part of culture I've been missing out on."

Then I watched Kingsman, and thought, "... or maybe I'm not actually missing out, really at all."

Don't get me wrong.  Kingsman is fun.  It's silly.  It has about the depth of, say, Sharknado.  It nods its head towards vaguely having something to say about modern class warfare, but it only gets to "rich people who hate everybody are bad, but that Colin Firth fellow is alright", and then it gets confused and goes back to blowing things up, which it's much better at.  It claims, kind of adorably and on-the-nosily, to be more hard-edged and realistic than the ludicrous, Roger-Moore-ish Bond films, and it's adorable.  That's like an eight-year-old boy pulling on his dad's suit jacket and shouting "IMA BUSINESSMAN!"  No, Kingsman.  Just... no.  You are every bit as laughable as Moonraker, and you are sooo cute.

I give so much credit to all the actors for knowing absolutely how stupid this movie is, and revelling in it -- all of them save the young lead, who seems to think he's in a movie we're supposed to take seriously.[1]  But Colin Firth plays his light, dry wit to the hilt.  Samuel L. Jackson affects a bizarre lisp, because he can.  Mark Hammill, of all people, shows up, and does a splendid job for his brief appearance.[2]

All that said, it's hard to feel like the movie is in any way intended to be fun for *me* personally.  Instead, it feels like it was written by a pile of lad mags that somehow achieved sentience.  It sets up massive crowd brawls set 'ironically' to pop songs, and... meh.  It was funnier when Shaun of the Dead did it, because Shaun of the Dead actually had a sense of irony, whereas, while Kingsman has (some) leads that fairly exude irony, the film itself doesn't quite seem to be in on the joke.  When Kingsman uses KC and the Sunshine Band to score climactic brawling, it's more like the movie is saying "YAY I LIKE FIGHTING".  The movie tries to be cool, while Mr. Firth and Mr. Jackson seem delightfully clued in on how hopeless that effort is. 

So it was a nice way to kill an hour or two.  It's great that Colin Firth finally gets to play a super-spy.  And as it ended, a moment's thought revealed that this "good guys win" ending was actually a holocaust for the human race, an infinite 9/11 that would leave everyone but sociopaths with debilitating PTSD, and the dawning of a Dollhouse-esque nightmare world with apocalyptic technologies for mind control.

But let's be honest: Kingsman is not a movie that has "a moment's thought" in its entire running time.  Oh, Kingsman.

The Martian
This is Ridley Scott's film adaptation of the Andy Weir novel about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars.  Lucky for us, most of the good things in the book -- the constant terror that everything was going to go to crap, the can-do optimism, the endless gallows humor, the gradually widening scope over the course of the story -- translate nicely to the screen.  And Matt Damon's performance as Mark Watney made up for what I saw as an underwritten character.  The novel seems to glide past the brutal loneliness and hopelessness that would always thrum in the background of Mark's situation -- but having an actor there to play the part makes the book's hints at this much more visceral.  It was off-putting to see Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Venkat Kapoor, who's clearly Indian, and to see a white actress playing Mindy Park, when Park is typically a surname from the Far East.  It wasn't jarring (and the author points out that it doesn't explicitly contradict the book), but I missed the (implied) diversity of the book, which reflects what the scientific community is really like.

Generally, though, the changes were small.  It was cute to see how they managed to imply just how profane Watney was without threatening their PG-13 rating.  It was hilarious to see how much they had to yank out of this story to make it fit into a movie-shaped box -- it was kind of the storytelling equivalent of ripping apart the MAV at the end of the film.  But they held on to a few of the little scientific details, like mentioning how the initial re-supply mission's food supply unexpectedly turned into a slurry and threw off the rocket's momentum.  Still, the film had to speed by so fast that I was sad to miss the details.  Ah well.  Can't have everything.  Oh, and the "Iron Man" glove bit was scientifically ludicrous, but, again, one makes concessions for the exigencies of film.

In the end, I don't know if the movie felt necessary -- I'm not sure if it really does much for me that the book didn't do on its own -- but it was fun to see the book translated to the screen, and I love that this story will now reach so many people.

Good Eats [season 2]
There really isn't much to say about season two that I didn't say about season one -- it's still fun, pleasant, and informative.  It's a less surprising show now -- after the first ten episodes or so of the series, you pretty much know Alton & Co.'s bag of tricks (and skits, and recurring characters) for getting across gastronomical concepts.  But there's also a comfort in that -- you're less distracted by the medium, and you can focus on the information.  Plus, the show is refining that bag of tricks -- homing in on the guest stars that are working well, and keeping the episodes moving at a brisk pace.

My only regret here is that I've got this show as basically just a distraction from exercising.  It works great at that, but it makes it unlikely that I'll retain much of this information, let alone put it into practice.  It'll just join the mental jumble of half-remembered facts that I can't remember where I learned.

Last Week Tonight [season 1]
This is the first season of John Oliver's HBO comedy-news show, which features long, in-depth segments about under-reported topics in the week's news.  It's hard to think of much to say about it, because it's doing its job very solidly.  It's exploring the same comedy-news territory as Oliver's old stomping grounds on The Daily Show, but it's distinguishing itself by dropping the "faux-interview wacky newsmaker" segments and focusing on long-form, why-the-hell-isn't-anyone-covering-this? journalism.  I suppose it gives Mr. Oliver's show a refined cachet that gibes well with the HBO brand, but it also makes for interesting viewing.  As mainstream journalism continues to get the shit kicked out of it by the Internet -- it's already an unprofitable, TMZ-ified shell of its former self -- the opportunities are there for a show like this to cover, say, regulatory capture in the payday-loan business, or the questionable charitable donations of beauty pageants, or the bizarre history of homophobia in Uganda.  And overall, it gives the show a more expansive, relaxed pace.  It doesn't feel like it has to be rapid-fire.  It can take its time -- both in explaining an intricate subject, and in building up its jokes, often ending with a hilarious/trenchant call to action, like asking food manufacturers to list their products' added sugar in terms of (disgusting) circus peanuts.  It also holds on to a little bit of its progenitor's wicked media analysis, editing together cute supercuts of, say, 60 Minutes correspondents feeding their interview subjects the exact sound bite they want.

So I'll go ahead and start catching up on season 2.  I'm sure it'll continue to be good exercise-viewing.

(While we were in England, Lindsey and I saw several plays.  I'll keep my comments about them brief -- I don't feel that qualified to analyze them in detail, and I doubt my American friends will ever get to see these productions.)

Nell Gwynn (The Globe)
We returned to The Globe a week after Much Ado to see the second performance ever of Nell Gwynn, a biographical dramedy about one of the first female actors in Restoration-era England.  I've been routinely summarizing this as "Shakespeare in Love + Restoration comedy + Blackadder", and frankly the emphasis is on the lattermost.  It has a love story in it, and it's cute enough, but nothing that feels like it has any real weight.  And it gives you a view of Restoration comedy (a genre which is almost uniformly horrible), but it's kind of a breezy, Cliff's-Notes version of the material.  But it succeeds, and succeeds admirably, in what Blackadder did so well: letting loose a whole bunch of brilliant comic actors on silly historical comedy.  It almost doesn't matter what it's about (though the veneer of 'this is historically educational' is pleasant) -- you're just watching good jokes well-told.  In this case, the lead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is starring in episode 8 of Star Wars[3], fercrissakes.  Frankly, even something as small as the running gag of "people accidentally being dicks to the king when he entered a room" was worth the price of admission on its own.

As with Much Ado, watching a show at the Globe had a weirdly contradictory quality.  The thrust stage, the proximity of the players to the whole audience, the outdoor setting, the fact that most of the audience is well-lit, and the crowd of happy groundlings at the actors' feet -- all those traits lend themselves to breaking the fourth wall, to healthy and frequent interaction with the people who've come to the show.  But the people who come to the Globe are the least likely people to ever interact back.  The Much Ado production had the frequent raucous musical numbers that inspired the audience to not only not dance, but not move, not shift their weight, not so much as quirk an eyebrow as the actors excitedly sang and played.  This one had frequent audience interaction, often direct address to the crowd, occasionally trying to get the attendees to clap along to things... and no.  The Globe crowd will very quietly give you nothing in return, it seems, apart from periodic, well-regulated laughter.

Still, this was a very funny show, and all the more impressive for its being only the second time the play was ever performed.  But continuing the Blackadder comparisons, the dead audience made it feel a bit like I was watching it on television.  Oh well.

For next week: I'm watching season 3 of Good Eats and season 2 of Last Week Tonight while exercising.  I've also been watching Fullmetal Alchemist and reading The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker's disquisition about the macro-scale historical decline in violence.

[1] Him, and perhaps also Sofia Boutella, who plays henchwoman "Gazelle" (no, really, "Gazelle") with nary a twinkle in her eye.
[2] I've long thought he was underrated in Star Wars.  Say what you will about Luke being whiny, the actor absolutely sold the reality of the Star Wars universe.  It was neat to see that same quality -- being in a gonzo-crazy blockbuster, but absolutely grounding his character -- show up here, so many years later.  It bodes well for The Force Awakens.
[3] Also, she had a role in Jupiter Ascending, if you like your sci-fi more batshit-insane-how-did-this-get-made.

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Date:Tuesday (10/27/15) 2:30pm
Как дела?!?
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