Picofarad #21 movie reviews

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Kick-Ass (2010)

Review by Chris French

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Running Time: 117 minutes

Note to Alan Moore and the rest of his ilk: This is how to Deconstruct the Four-Color Ethos, (insert epithet of choice here-- god knows the script writer did).

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a garden-variety New York City teenager, which is to say his life sucks like a V-12-powered vacuum cleaner: He has the obligatory Nerd "President of the Pubic-Hair-Club For Men" hair-don't, "Birth-control glasses", hangs around with two other Brockian Ultra-Losers, and gets mugged by the same two street punks on a regular basis. He also holds no delusions about how much his life sucks -- in fact, the first ten minutes of the flick hammers this home with all the subtlety of a Bagger 288 in operation.

And this is how Our Hero decides to become, well, a Hero -- no horrific familial murders, no crushing psychological traumas, nothing like we've been beaten over the head with in every comic prior. The kid simply gets sick of living in the House Which Kitty Genovese Built, and decides to do something about it. So he does what most teenagers do, and acquires a phony ID -- only instead of using it to get drunk and/or laid, he uses his new identity, the titular "Kick-Ass", to actually try to help people. (That this ID of his eventually *does* get him laid is a bit of a side-note.)

Now, ordinarily we'd be treated to him going out, doing Good Works, and generally becoming loved by all -- ah, no. In fact, this movie does an admirable job of pointing out the hard realities of being a Hero in the Real World, especially when one takes into account that Dave has all the strategic sense of Leeroy Jenkins; Our Hero gets seven bales of snot knocked out of him on a regular basis, including at least one stabbing.

A note at this point, speaking of People Needing Stabbing: Whatever advertising agent decided to market this as a broad-farce comedy, as opposed to a realistic satire, needs to be given much the same treatment Our Hero gets throughout the film. Especially in light of modern technological realities (read: people publishing online movie reviews from the theater while the movie is playing), trying to misrepresent one's product via the advertising just doesn't work anymore, you morons.

I mention this because of the four other main characters -- Damon and Mindy Macready (Nicholas Cage and Chloe Moretz), a father/daughter team heroically known as "Big Daddy" and "Hit-Girl" respectively. Damon once was a cop, who was wrongfully convicted of drug-dealing and corruption via the machinations of proto-Mafiosi Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) (and with a name like Frank D'Amico, the Irony Pedal is being worked hard); his wife died giving birth to Mindy, and, well, let's just say Damon's failed a few Sanity Checks of late. He's spent the years since his release from the pokey turning his daughter into nothing more or less than a Weapon of Mook Destruction, with D'Amico pere as the intended receiver. I mention D'Amico's status as father only so I can point out he has a son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who most kids (including Dave) know as a hopelessly isolated rich kid; but whose father sees him as a useless inconvenience -- until Chris suggests he can bring the "heroes" to his father for appropriate (for the Mob) disposal. The series of misunderstandings which lead Frank to think "Kick-Ass" is the one causing his business distress soon pale compared to the logical Mike-Charlie-Foxtrot which result in Chris backing into the identity "Red Mist", and the series of unfortunate events [ahem] leading to the climactic battle between Good and Evil.

I do not use the word "battle" lightly here-- a lot of people end up dead, and we are treated to an extended sequence of a grown man quite literally stomping on a pre-teen girl. See note above about the nature of this flick-- this is not a comedy, folks. Usually, it takes something about 25 feet long weighing around five tons with more teeth than the leader of The Muppet Show's house band (I'd have said "the Osmond Family", but TV Tropes has that simile locked up) to get me to look away from a movie screen, and I generally don't like children anyway, but: Damn, that got ugly at times. (Two words: "Industrial Microwave".)

And that's why I liked this flick: It didn't screw around. It deals with the realities of superherodom; it shows what actually happens to people who try that sort of thing in the real world; it didn't faff about with gratuitous moralizing; and it managed to do so inside of two hours, barely (are you listening, Watchmen fans?).

So, if you're looking for some fluff about people trying to be superheroes in reality, this isn't the film for you-- go watch the Watchmen. If, however, you're looking for Realistic Superherodom Done Properly, this is your movie-- it gets a definite Watch.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Review by Chris French

Directed by Jon Favreau
Running Time: 124 minutes

Whoa -- I've been doing this long enough I actually get to review a movie and its sequel. I wonder if Gene Shalit ever got this excited about such an event (but then, the way he reviews movies, it's hard to tell...).

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the Dennis Miller of Superherodom, returns -- and so does what the late Richard Jeni once described as "a Jed-Clampett-movin'-to-Beverly-Hills smelly-ass truckload" of personal baggage. The theme of this "episode" is Legacies, that which a person's actions leave in his wake -- we are shown how Tony's father (John Slattery) (depicted here as the bastard offspring of Walt Disney and Victor Frankenstein) was unable to express how he truly felt towards Tony, and how this has contributed to Tony's tendency for behavior more subprime than most mortgages these days; how Tony's father's part in the deportation of a defected Soviet scientist (Yevgeni Lazarev) creates the Big Bad for this movie -- the scientist's son (Mickey Rourke), who looks more like an extra from a biker movie than a scientist; how Tony's flagrant humiliation of business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) (whose superpower appears to be "acting like a sissy without getting his ass kicked") and a US Senator (Garry Shandling) (at the same hearing, no less) lead to Tony's words being used to wreck his reputation; how Tony's general jerkaciousness has damaged his relations with the two people who're willing to put up with him, the inestimable "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and LCOL James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), and has forced Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to put Tony on a short leash in the form of Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff; and so on. The writers worked that pedal like one of Lars Ulrich's bass drums; and yet, like Mr. Ulrich's work, it doesn't come off sounding overly smug or preachy -- just pretty damned brutal at times.

In fact, to this writer's eye and ear, there are only two salient flaws in this flick: First, the talking-over-each-other arguing style used between Tony and Pepper is funny once, but after the fourth or fifth instance it gets annoying; and second, trying to shoehorn an '80s-era "Soviet" villain into a 21st-century movie doesn't really work (unless Vladimir Putin becomes Czar, in which case... well, best not think about that), especially not when it forces Mickey Rourke, who is a far better actor than folks give him credit for, is required to engage in the stone-faced mush-mouth-mumbling archetype -- he looks intimidating, but sounds like he just came out of dental surgery. If I knew how to say "No Es Bueno" in Russian, I'd do so here. Some might be annoyed that the film does not explicitly use Rourke's character's villain handle (Whiplash), and only en passant mentions Rhodes being "War Machine"; however, for this non-comic-reader, it's not that big a deal. (And who gave permission to use the Monk's Reward as a commercial?)

The special effects and action sequences are as expected -- fast-moving to the point one has a hard time figuring out what's happening (which from what I'm told is a fairly accurate description of combat), and effectively seamless once one ignores the fact that things like Arc Reactors and Grav Lances (apologies to Honor Harrington fans, but what the hell else are Iron Man's weapons?) do not exist -- yet. The acting is acceptable, avoiding the over-the-top-rope-DQ which results when some comics are adapted to film (as noted above, in at least one case, it overcorrects). Some have complained about there being too many characters to follow, but I certainly didn't have that problem.

I rate this one, like its predecessor, a Watch -- of course, Jay Sherman's Law says it's the third movie one has to be wary of, so, we'll have to see how that one turns out...

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