Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Kick-Ass fully lives up to its title. While not perfect, it's definitely the most pure, giddy fun I've had in a movie theater so far in 2010 and a flick I can easily see myself picking up on DVD and enjoying repeat viewings of for years, something increasingly rare these days. Part satire of the inherently absurd superhero mythos and part awesome superhero flick of its own accord, injected with a healthy dose of high school comedy and an unhealthy dose of gory action, I like to think of Kick-Ass as being Watchmen meets Superbad.

The plot's pretty simple: a high school comic book nerd named Dave Lizewski (he claims not to be a nerd in his voiceover narration but all onscreen evidence refutes this) decides more or less on a whim to become a superhero named Kick-Ass. He's marginally successful at best but meets a father-daughter duo of much more talented and much more murderous superheroes named Big Daddy and Hit Girl, whose crimefighting ways incur the wrath of mob boss Frank D'Amico upon not just them but Dave as well. I'm leaving out a few other key characters and subplots but let's just say that violence ensues and leave it at that.

The cast isn't exactly loaded with big stars beyond Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy. In fact I've never seen the protagonist Aaron Johnson in anything, while everyone else is recognizable from one or two other projects — Chloë Grace Moretz from (500) Days of Summer plays Hit Girl, while Superbad's McLovin (the actor has a name, but c'mon, he's McLovin) is another superhero named Red Mist and Sherlock Holmes villain Mark Strong further cements his typecasting by playing the heavy. Big Daddy and Hit Girl stand out the most. I hate a lot of Nicolas Cage's work (Knowing's awfulness shall haunt me forever) but he's hilarious here and I applaud his humility as an actor; you almost never see an established A-list star playing second fiddle to an unknown but here it provides for pleasantly odd onscreen chemistry. As for Chloë Grace Moretz, well, we'll get to her in a minute.

Here are the top three things that Kick-Ass has going for it as far as being supreme entertainment:

1. It's an action comedy that truly balances the action and the comedy. The vast majority of the time the phrase "action comedy" is code for "a comedy with a few action scenes." Most are quite bad, but even in the genre's few gems — 2008's Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder for example — the action scenes would fail to stand up on their own without the laughs. They're the spice, not the main course. Then you have action movies with so much comic relief that you could almost classify them as action comedies — think Star Trek and Iron Man — but again, just the comedy with the thrills removed would leave you with an anemic, pointless film.

Then there's Kick-Ass, a genuinely and consistently hilarious comedy that had everyone in the audience I saw it with roaring while also being a vibrantly shot, creative, badass action flick with some of the coolest fight sequences I've seen in a couple years. Each half alone is so strong it could carry a movie by itself, together, they lift Kick-Ass to greatness.

The comedy occasionally yields to cliché; for example, we pretty much first meet our protagonist masturbating, the exact same way that American Pie: The Book of Love opens, not a good comparison to invite. And there's a scene where the protagonist's love interest greets him and he greets her back only to realize that she was greeting the girl standing behind him and be embarrassed, which is directly out of the first Spider-Man. But when it gives way to spoofing the absurdity of superheroes and pure vulgarity it's quite funny, and when it leans on the pitch black comedy of copious murder it's hysterical. This is a dark, dark comedy, not for everybody. Probably not even for most people. But man did I laugh.

And the action kicks ass (pardon the pun, it was inevitable); there's cool fights and cool weaponry and everything you could want, particularly when it comes to Big Daddy and Hit Girl. There's one shootout partway through lit only by a strobe light that's gotta be one of the most creatively shot gunfights I've ever seen in a film, bringing fresh and exciting life to something we've all seen hundreds of times in movies and TV. I've sat yawning through so many action scenes in recent years that it was nice to be grabbed by the balls for once. A big part of that is also due to my second reason Kick-Ass rules...

2. It's gory and violent as fuck. The 80s are dead, and it's pretty much expected these days that every summer action flick is going to lounge comfortably in PG-13 territory. Wanted is one of the only exceptions of recent years, but while I admired that film's bloody sensibility I found everything else about it instantly forgettable. Kick-Ass actually manages to marry sick and twisted violence to likable characters and a hilarious script, so it wins hands down. Brains are blown out of skulls onscreen, people crushed and exploded and burned alive, hacked to pieces, limbs sliced off, blood and viscera flying all over the place. Oh snap! It'll make your parents feel faint.

Beyond Wanted and Rambo you just don't see that kind of screen magic anymore outside of maybe slashers and torture porn, but I don't wanna watch that shit. There was also a fair amount of gore in Watchmen, but the tone was rather dry like you should almost feel bad if enjoy the violence for violence's sake; in Kick-Ass, there's a demented clown-style wicked glee to it that happily invites you to love the slaughter. That is, if you can get over your...

3. Moral outrage. There are legitimate moral outrages. War, mass starvation, corrupt politicians. But quite literally every single moral outrage in recorded human history that can be boiled down to "oh god won't someone think of the children?!" has been breathtakingly idiotic. No exception. Ever. Controversy over violent video games, idiotic. Rap music, idiotic. The sex scene in Mass Effect, idiotic. Dakota Fanning in Hounddog, idiotic. Sexting, idiotic. And I find something fascinating about the sociology of stupidity so I love watching people work themselves up into an angry lather over their moral outrage, which Kick-Ass seems to have accomplished thanks to Hit Girl, an eleven-year-old assassin (played by an actress who I think was twelve at the time of shooting).

Some critics and news commentators are livid over her use of the words "cunt" and "fuck," saying that having young Chloë Grace Moretz say these words was morally reprehensible. This is absolutely hilarious because twelve-year-olds are incredibly foulmouthed and swear more than just about anyone except maybe thirteen and fourteen-year-olds since the words are still cool and taboo. Seriously, what is it with most adults seeming to have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of what it was actually like to be a kid? Are they all putting up a big farce together or does every human being at age thirty suddenly undergo an overnight bout of intense amnesia and wake up believing that every child is pure as the driven snow? Someone older than thirty who reads my blog, help me out with this.

The outrage over her butchering dozens of mobsters might have a bit more validity were it not for the fact that it's a fictional movie with fictional blood, but it is, so it doesn't. Oh god won't someone think of the children?!

Director Matthew Vaughn has compiled an impressive filmography in his six short years behind the camera. First there was 2004's Layer Cake, a British crime flick that I liked but didn't love, then there was 2007's Stardust, an immensely charming family-friendly fantasy flick that I thought captured the spirit of The Princess Bride better than nearly any movie since 1987, and now we have Kick-Ass. More than just good movies, these are all good movies with completely disparate styles and genres and tones and settings and not even any recurring actors. I'm reminded of Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire. The ability to take whatever's thrown at you and make it your own. That's true talent. I can't wait to see what Matthew Vaughn does next.

4 Stars out of 5

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Legion is one of the worst things ever created by human hands in any field of endeavor through all recorded history. No, it's not "so bad it's good." Anyone who knows me knows I respect "so bad it's good." Dungeons & Dragons is one of my favorite movies. Legion is just inert and boring; a supernatural horror thriller where they forgot to add in the horror or the thriller, leaving just a supernatural. It's worse than reality TV. It's a shame it didn't come out a few months earlier because it would have found a proud home on my bottom 100 movies of the decade list.

In The Terminator Legion, the world is on the cusp of apocalypse at the hands of Skynet God that will leave humanity broken and scattered. But there's one last hope: an ordinary waitress is pregnant with the child that is fated to grow up to lead what's left of humanity in victorious rebellion against the robots the angels and save the world. Upon hearing of this, Skynet God sends the T-800 the archangel Gabriel from the future heaven to find her and kill her, while Kyle Reese the archangel Michael departs from the same place to protect her. Action scenes ensue.

There's a certain novel twist to the fact that the movie's villain is unapologetically God ― not a god, but the God, Yahweh standing in for Sauron ― but it doesn't make it any less boring. Legion steals every beat of The Terminator's plot by swapping the sci-fi elements out for religious ones but badly perverts its structure, replacing the aggressively-paced chase story and three strong central characters with a dull siege movie and a clusterfuck of interchangable redshirts. The movie is holed up in a diner until the final ten minutes and watching them repel enemy angels gets old very quickly. It's the same shit from every zombie movie going back to 1968's Night of the Living Dead reheated and served up for the thousandth time, and it's no longer appetizing.

All that said, I only saw this movie because the pregnant waitress / living MacGuffin is played by Adrianne Palicki from my favorite TV show Friday Night Lights, and on that count it delivered. She has the second most screentime of anyone besides Michael; even more than Dennis Quaid as the diner owner. But she's terrible here, as is Poor Man's Jude Law Paul Bettany performing Michael on the mistaken belief that a lack of any personality whatsoever equates to badass. The only hint of fun comes from Kevin Durand's Gabriel. He first caught my attention playing Martin Keamy, my all-time favorite antagonist from Lost, and he radiates awesome and deserves a big career. His talent is wasted in this movie but I'm looking forward to seeing him as Little John in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood come May.

1 Star out of 5

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Lovely Bones

If there's one thing I dislike more than a bad movie it's a bad movie with aspirations of greatness, and if mocking films for having ambition makes me an asshole, then buy me some toilet paper, 'cuz I'm an asshole. For example, of my worst movies of 2008 list the film outside of Babylon A.D. that I now most keenly recall as a shudder-inducing, revolting experience that keeps getting worse and worse in my mind isn't Disaster Movie, but Best Picture nominee The Reader. I mean, why be mad at Disaster Movie? It's shit, sure, but it's shit that was conceived, written, and produced specifically as shit for shitty people. So while it's a worse movie it's a lot less annoying than The Reader, a generic, saccharine melodrama that firmly believes itself to be a fucking masterpiece.

Which brings us to The Lovely Bones, based off a novel I've never read which people say is much better than the film. But I'm never gonna read it, so we won't dwell on that. This movie wants to be great. A work of art. Possibly a masterpiece. I have no doubt that Oscars were whispered of at some point during production. But here's the catch: it's no good. It sounded like a few of the blue-haired grannies in my audience were touched, but if all your synapses are still firing properly you won't be joining them. This is one of the most overwrought and mawkish films in years and the more it tries to move you the funnier and more cringe-inducing it becomes. An astounding misfire.

Okay, so a fourteen-year-old girl named Susie Salmon is murdered. Not a spoiler, that's how the movie starts. But oh, it's not over for her yet! We follow Susie on up into heaven where she gets to hang out with other murdered girls and party and everything is magical happiness. It's supposed to be ethereal but just comes off as creepy. She narrates constantly to let us know exactly what we're supposed to feeling at every given moment. The screenwriters leave nothing to chance.

Meanwhile back on earth the movie is going fucking nuts with genres and crazy mood whiplash from scene to scene. Susie's parents, played by the respectively brown and black-haired Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz whose daughters are somehow a pale redhead and a blonde (one of the film's many subtly retarded touches), grieve for Susie in a made-for-TV family melodrama while simultaneously hunting for her killer in a detective movie. Whoa. That's one of the most poorly conceived things I've ever heard of. The tone is manic depressive; at one point the film swerves with neck-snapping force by going from Susie's parents sobbing over their murdered daughter's empty room immediately into a cleaning the house / dance montage scored to upbeat pop rock. It was all I could do to not start convulsing with laughter right there in the aisles.

And let's talk about Mark Wahlberg for a second. He sailed to the raggedy edge of overacting in 2006's The Departed but somehow kept hold, turning in one of the most entertaining screen performances of the decade. But apparently M. Night replaced him with a pod because two years later in The Happening he stank up the joint like nothing I've ever seen from a Hollywood leading man and here in The Lovely Bones he's nearly as bad, still cartoonishly widening his eyes and whining in a high pitch to emote and failing spectacularly. The child playing his fourteen-year-old daughter acts fucking circles around him. Fuck it, kick him out of the industry and pretend The Departed was his swan song.

Okay, so spoilers now if anyone cares: the movie ends with Susie Salmon accepting her death and taking her place in heaven, her family accepting her death and moving on while retaining their fond memories, and her killer dying in a bizarre accident when he falls off a cliff and turns into CGI halfway down. Oh, then the CGI hits some rocks, but I don't know how anyone could have survived turning into CGI like that, so the rocks were really a moot point. And that bizarre, random, pointless, gaudy scene is the perfect ending to The Lovely Bones. Basically, movie sucks, but I still haven't mentioned the worst part: this piece of shit was directed by Peter Jackson.

The Lord of the Rings remains my personal favorite cinematic achievement of the last ten years. I'd been in love with epic fantasy literally since before I can remember, pretty much since I was physically capable of reading, and it was a fulfillment of my wildest childhood dreams to see the genre brought to life onscreen with such love and verve and style and imagination and success. So what happened? How could Peter have fucked up The Lovely Bones so badly? Was the problem the script and subject matter, or as a filmmaker is he just better at operating in the broad strokes of good vs. evil and creature design? Either way, Peter, please, run back to Middle-earth and stay there. I'm still stoked for The Hobbit but my enthusiasm for Jackson's next non-Tolkein movie has been blunted into virtual nonexistence. The Lovely Bones is pretty much a lock for my bottom ten of the year.

1 Star out of 5

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Clash of the Titans

The B-movie lives! Make no mistake, Clash of the Titans is cinematic garbage. Stupid beyond belief. It makes Iron Man and Zombieland look like brainy art films. To argue otherwise is to be a twelve-year-old boy. But the real debate is whether or not it's glorious cinematic garbage, and while I need to mull it over, I may be leaning towards yes. I'm a dude who goes to the movies a lot — two, three, occasionally four times a week — and Clash of the Titans is the first movie in untold years that I've seen in a crowded opening night theater where half the audience was cracking up at the cheese with no one even bothering to shush the chortles and wisecracks because that was the treatment the film clearly demanded. A bad movie, absolutely, but a joyous moviegoing experience.

Okay, so get this: Clash of the Titans takes place in a mythical ancient Greece where the people know for a fact that Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and all the other gods are real — they see them, they speak to them, they come down from Olympus from time to time — and decide to declare war on them. That just seems like a really awful idea on every level. Look, I'm all for mocking religion, but if I knew that God was real and could smite me you'd better believe I'd bend the knee before he could even issue the decree to do so. At one point in the movie Hades comes down and creates a black whirlwind that inhales half the soldiers in the castle with the apparent ease with which you or I would swat a mosquito. Yeah, humanity, going to war with that seems real smart.

Zeus and Hades are respectively played by Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes (making Clash of the Titans a sort of unofficial Schindler's List II) who engage in one of the most delicious duels of overacting I've ever seen. Fiennes hisses and drawls and leers and shuffles zombie-like in what's damn near a parody of his Voldemort while Neeson abandons all dignity and bellows his lines with scenery-chewing ham as befits the King of the Gods. There's a visceral thrill in watching talented actors debase themselves and while there's nothing here that measures up to my all-time favorite display of overacting, Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons, it's pretty great. Other than Pete Postlethwaite as the protagonist's father there's no other performances of note, especially not a wooden Sam Worthington as said protagonist who almost dares me to take back the praise I gave him after Terminator Salvation, but Neeson and Fiennes need no help from mortals to prop up a picture.

The film's narrative arc reminded me more than a little bit of an RPG video game. We begin with an opening sequence where we're introduced to our protagonist, meet the villain, and our hero gathers his party members and is sent off on his goodly quest. Along the way he powers up his stats, gathers superior equipment (at one point he's given a magical shield and told that it's "a very rare and high-quality item"), gains and loses party members, falls in love with the one female member of his party in occasional cutscenes, and of course has a series of boss fights; first with the cursed King Acrisius, then some giant scorpions, then Medusa, then a rematch with King Acrisius, then the Kraken, then the final boss battle with Hades (this is an alteration from the original 1981 Clash of the Titans, where the final boss was the Kraken). All that's missing is the victory music after each battle and superfluous minigames.

There's no moral gray. There's no politics. There's no socially relevant message. This a monster-fighting flick about swords and gods and magic. The dialogue is so much excrement rolling like shit gumballs from the actors' mouths. The romantic subplot will make you long for the days of Anakin and Padmé's nuanced courtship. At one point a pegasus flies in in glorious slow motion before the sun while unironically epic music plays to let us know that this is supposed to be a great cinematic image. And yes, just as a special "fuck you" to me, the film ends with my most hated trope (spoilers, I guess), a dead character being joyously revived with magic. This movie is fucking terrible. I hated it. I loved it. I don't regret seeing it, especially not with a packed audience in on the joke, but although I know my pleas fall on deaf ears I pray to Zeus that this is the stupidest of this summer's blockbuster extravaganzas.

2 Stars out of 5