Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Year 8, Day 89 - 3/29/16 - Movie #2,289

BEFORE: I had three experiences yesterday that resulted in me coming to terms with a character flaw of mine, and I think this helps me to understand why I seem to be so impatient about things, and not just with regards to my dental surgery.  You know how you can be standing in line to order food or to pay for something in a store, and you just want to strangle the person ahead of you?  I thought for a while this was maybe just a NYC thing, but I had real, concrete reasons yesterday why the patrons ahead of me needed to be taken down a peg.  First off, I was waiting to order lunch, and the woman in front of me took 10 minutes (no exaggeration) to order a couple of cheeseburgers.  She was saying, "Now, on the first one, I want lettuce, and...OK, just lettuce.  On the second one, I want lettuce, a slice of tomato, and what kind of cheese do you have?  American and what?  Cheddar?  OK, I want American on the first one, and cheddar on the second one.  Wait, can I get one on an English muffin instead of a bun?  OK, the one with cheddar and tomato, put on a regular bun, but the one with just lettuce, I want on an English muffin..."  ARRGH!  I couldn't even START my order for a sandwich until she finished, and there was absolutely NO sense of hurry-up on her part, there was just this enormous sense of entitlement that what she's doing is really important.  No, it's not, even if you love cheeseburgers, and you want them a specific way, there's a better way of ordering.  How about "Two cheeseburgers, one on an English muffin", and then you just pick off the stuff you don't want?  Finally I ordered my sandwich, using only seven syllables, and two of those were "to go".  Look, there are eating establishments where I can get very specific, and if you want to get a sandwich that will take 5 minutes to order, I can take you to that kind of restaurant, but a little hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon joint in Chelsea is not one of those places.  

Later I went to the comic-book shop, and had a similar experience - this guy walks up to the cashier with four copies of the same comic, only with different-colored backgrounds on the cover.  He needed to know if these were really the same comic-book inside, beyond the differences in the cover (which seems like a question that should answer itself - do they have the same issue number?)  And then he launched into a discussion with the cashier about why the character in this book was his favorite - which only delayed my desire to pay for my books and go home even further.  Now, I'm all for making polite conversation with the clerk at the store, but NOT when there's a line of people waiting to pay!  And anyway, any question about the content of a book should have been directed to an employee working out on the floor, not the cashier - who should only be concerned with helping people pay for their books and exit the store.  I wanted to drag this guy across the room and throw him down the stairs (the comic-book shop is on the second floor) but I showed restraint.  

The common factor here, beyond my short temper, is the fact that I'm keenly aware that these people are not going about things the correct way (according to my definition, but when it comes to ordering food and buying comics, I'm something of an expert.)  The third time this feeling exerted itself yesterday came when I was booking my AirBnb reservation for San Diego Comic-Con.  Last year I switched from the frantic search for a reasonably-priced hotel to a slightly less frantic search for a rented room, and the results were good.  I already booked my boss into his first-choice hotel this year by going through official Comic-Con housing for the first time, but I'm on more of a budget, and the hostel-like hotel I stayed at for years is now only taking reservations two weeks in advance, and I just can't take that chance.  If I'm going to get 5 nights of accommodation in the $500-600 range, AirBnb is now my best bet.  And there are rooms listed for the San Diego area starting at $50 per night, ideally I'm looking for something within trolley distance from the Convention Center, ideally from a host who's either new to AirBnb or has no idea what Comic-Con is, because those who do know they can double or triple their rates during the convention.  

So I tried to book a room at a $50/night rate, and then at a $65/night rate, only to have my requests declined, because the hosts were planning to raise their rates during Comic-Con week - which they have every right to do, but the correct way to do this is to select the "festival pricing" option on the calendar, and then assign an increased rate to that week in July.  If they don't do this, then the room looks open for that week at that price, and increasing the rate later amounts to a "bait-and-switch", which is against the terms of service for the site.  But when I try to point this out to the host, since I know the correct way of doing these things, and they apparently don't, then they get mad at ME.  Hey, I'm just the messenger here, you signed up for AirBnB and you're bound by the TOS, as am I.  I'm just trying to benefit from playing the system according to those rules, and you can't just turn me down because YOU forgot to charge more.  Now I could get fussy and report these hosts, and maybe I'd get the room for the rate advertised, but it would just create bad feelings with the host.  It's better to take one attempt at stating my case and my superior understanding of the rules, and then move on.  

But whether I'm ordering a sandwich or booking a hotel room, why do I have this constant need to prove that I know more than other people, where does this come from?  Am I so starved for attention and praise that I need to prove I'm the smartest person in the room?  Part of me wants to trace it back to grade school, when I was fairly sure I was the smartest kid in the class, and maybe I got addicted to that feeling of superiority.  But I think part of it is feeling good that I believe everything is running efficiently, or taking comfort in the fact that I can often see a better way to get things done.  My dad (a man who knew the most efficient way to drive his truck between any two Boston-area cities, and then probably 17 alternate routes if that first one didn't work) used to take my sister and me to amusement parks, and he made us walk all the way around the park to make the most efficient plan, before going on any rides.  Maybe he was just trying to tire us out, but he taught me so much about making plans that the plan-making became part of the enjoyment for me.  When he eventually took us to Disney World, the place was too huge to walk around, so we pored over maps of the park the night before, to determine the most efficient (and therefore most fun-packed) way to see everything we wanted to see.  

Because life's not a destination, it's a journey, and if you're not traveling in the most efficient manner, then you're wasting time, and you might miss the thing you wanted to see most, even if you didn't know about it.  I almost feel sorry for people who are stumbling through life, and don't realize that with a few simple rules they can wring more enjoyment out of it, especially if they take pleasure in the creation and following of those simple rules, like I do.  

Final point to illustrate this - a few weeks ago, my BFF Andy was in town, and when I got off work we met at a new BBQ joint on the upper East Side - he got the burnt ends and some baked beans, while I had the advantage of sussing out the menu before-hand, thanks to the Food Network.  So I got the half-chicken and some sweet potatoes (with maple-glazed pecans) but I also knew that they had this giant beef rib on the menu, which they call a Brontosaurus rib.  Usually when I test out a new BBQ place I get a combo platter with brisket and some pulled pork, and an array of sides, so that next time I visit the restaurant, I'll know which items I like more than others, and I can focus on those.  But there was no way I was eating there without one of those ribs, even though some reviewers didn't care for it.  Afterwards, Andy expressed the opinion that I had "out-ordered" him, which was really just the result of proper planning and some quick decision-making, but when someone tells me that I planned something really well, I take it as a very high compliment.  

And that's really what I'm doing with movies, too, I'm trying out all the different items on the menu, and ultimately I'll have a much better idea at the end of this process concerning which movies I like better than others.  Still deep into Samuel L. Jackson week, but for a change of pace, he plays the villain in this film, I think. 

THE PLOT: A spy organization recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into the agency's ultra-competitive training program, just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.

AFTER:  Turns out this is based on a comic-book, together with "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Robocop", it sort of feels appropriate that I'm watching as many comic-book-style movies as I can, leading up to "Batman v. Superman" - and then after that I've got a path that will take me to "Ant-Man" and the recent "Fantastic Four" reboot.  But "The Secret Service" is not a comic that I've ever read, but it's interesting that this film's director also produced "Snatch" and directed both "Kick-Ass" and "X-Men: First Class".  So, as one would expect, that puts this one somewhere squarely between British pub culture and superhero team sensibilities.  

For Americans, this confirms what we've long suspected about the U.K., namely that there's a Hogwarts-like school there for just about everything you can imagine, including spy training.  We see much of the film from the P.O.V. of Egby, who gets recommended for the program by the agent who owes his life to Egby's late father, who was also an agent.  And it's one of those programs that keeps testing its recruits with more and more dangerous tests, and some things that don't even seem like tests at first, and then continue until it's too late to pass them properly.  

The agency uses very British code names like "Arthur" and "Merlin", and they have an opening for a new "Lancelot".  Oh, and the biggest bad-ass in the agency is played by Colin Firth, which is a welcome change after seeing him in very meek roles, like in "Circle of Friends" and "The King's Speech".  He never came across before as someone who could take down a whole room of enemy targets, but that's what he does here. 

The gadgetry is ridiculous, of course, even outdoing the things you usually see in James Bond films, like submarine cars and magnetic watches.  Here there are bullet-proof umbrellas and stun rings and blades hidden in Oxford shoes - but again, it's a comic-book movie, so there are no limits placed on the imagination of the writers.  Nobody's going to complain that the gadgets and the action are unrealistic, because they're not expected to be.  The villain's second-in-command even has blades in place of legs, much like Oscar Pistorius, only they're much deadlier, like Wolverine's claws.  Sure, they work as legs and weapons, why the heck not?  Because nothing could be cooler than that. (NITPICK POINT: And I get that she can slice a man in half, but where is the blood?  Wouldn't it be all over the place?)

It's a long time before the villain's plan is revealed, at first we're only told that this billionaire was working to combat climate change, and then at some point he realized that not only had we passed the dreaded "tipping point", but that in the end, humans are the problem, so the most logical thing to do would be to get rid of most of the humans, so the planet can heal itself.  Because if we don't do that, then we're dead already, it's just going to take longer.  I feel like there's a flaw somewhere in this logic, but I can't quite place it.  And then when Valentine's plan is revealed, it's quite silly indeed, and it starts with giving every person on the planet free cell phone service.  Damn, why didn't Blofeld ever think of that?  Because that can only lead to mass extinction, right?

NITPICK POINT: This is the third spy movie I've watched recently (along with "Spy" and "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation") that would have me believe that for every agent out in the field, there is at least one person sitting in front of a bank of computers to give him advice, and that tech expert can see and hear everything that the agent can.  Now, is this based on any real knowledge of modern spy techniques, or is this just a movie-based convention to make things easier for the director to move the action forward?  Because when all the characters are on the same page, and nobody has to explain anything to their teammates, solutions can be created almost instantly - but I'm guessing that actual spy work is a lot more complicated than this.  I feel now that I must research this, because I feel that the screenwriters, in all cases, probably didn't - these movies just seem to borrow plot points from each other, after all.  

Also starring Colin Firth (last seen in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), Taron Egerton, Mark Strong (last seen in "Twice Upon a Yesterday"), Michael Caine (last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Jack Davenport (last seen in "The Wedding Date"), Edward Holcroft, Tom Prior (last seen in "The Theory of Everything"), Nicholas Banks, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Nicholas Agnew, Nicholas Banks, Rowan Polonski, Fiona Hampton, Hanna Alstrom, Samantha Womack, Geoff Bell, Jonno Davies.

RATING: 6 out of 10 tabloid headlines

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