Tag: badass (page 3 of 5)

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Demolition Man

This week’s IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! brought to you by a generous donation by Maggie Carroll. Thank you for your support!

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

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Let’s face it. If you’re over a certain age, you’re going to look back on past years more favorably than you do on the present. Food tasted better, games were more enjoyable, and movies didn’t suck as much. It’s a little thing called ‘nostalgia,’ and it can color criticism of things we experienced as we grew up. If you’re aware of this, you can push past those feelings of affection and avoid sounding like an unprofessional commentator stuck in a bygone time, much like the protagonist in Demolition Man. Eerily, as time goes on, the movie itself seems like a relic of the past.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures

The movie opens in 1996 Los Angeles where two very transparently named characters do battle. Police detective John Spartan tracks his arch-nemesis Simon Phoenix to an embattled warehouse and takes the bad guy down. In doing so, he is the unwitting cause of some civilian deaths and put on ice. Literally. The new cryogenic prison is tested on these two, with Spartan eligible for parole in 40 years while Phoenix is put away for life. Fast forward to 2032, and the coastal cities of California have been conglomerated under the direction of Doctor Raymond Cocteau, who has brought order out of anarchy through some benevolent social engineering that’s outlawed things like violence, “physical fluid exchange”, bad language and spicy food. Phoenix escapes his parole hearing into this sunshiny society, which is seeking to stamp out elements that enjoy eating meat, spraying graffiti and thinking for themselves. To stop the sudden rampage of violent murders, the ill-equipped and pseudo-intellectual police thaw out John Spartan. After all, sometimes you have send a maniac to catch a maniac.

I have to say that, while heavy-handed and sometimes coming off as a parody, the two futures presented by this 1993 film are equally bleak. It shows a 1996 LA torn apart by gang warfare, with fires, looting and anti-aircraft guns everywhere. The police have to roll into war zones with armored vehicles and riot weaponry. By contrast, 2032 San Angeles is the sort of clean, perfect society filled with nice, loquacious people that would give Aldous Huxley nightmares. Everybody is ‘low-jacked’ as one character puts it, nobody swears or commits violent crimes and people have food, shelter and comforts as long as they obey by the strict rules laid down by the good doctor in charge of it all. Since violence and crime itself are very nearly foreign concepts, the introduction of a gleeful killing machine like Simon Phoenix quickly flushes the place down the toilet.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures
It says something when Sly plays the more interesting character in the lead duo.

If it weren’t for the the whole “man out of time” angle, this Stallone action flick would be pretty generic. The bad guy chews through scenery and police officers who aren’t the hero with ease while the good guys never get shot by anybody without a name. It’s only the world of San Angeles and the reactions of Spartan and Phoenix to it that make this watchable. In particular, Stallone does a good job of conveying the discomfort, frustration and even loneliness of a driven, smarter-than-he-looks supercop thrust into a world where his violence is abhorred, his one-liners are chided and his approach towards women is considered repugnant. They also tried to turn him into a seamstress. It’d be horrifying if it weren’t so damn funny.

Speaking of funny, one of the best parts of this movie is Wesley Snipes cutting loose. You may think from the Blade movies that Snipes has no emotional range whatsoever. Not true. Simon Phoenix is a sadistic, wise-cracking, genre savvy madman, and his manic energy really fuels the narrative. The film actually seems to dim a bit when he’s not on-screen. Other elements do buoy the story and keep it moving when he’s not around, but when he’s on he’s having so much fun that it’s hard not to crack a smile. That page that will ruin your life describes him as “a Hip-Hop Joker.” I can’t think of a more spot-on description.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures
You can’t be taken seriously with that hairdo unless you kill every cracker you see.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag. Sandra Bullock’s character attempts to be endearing but can really start to grate on the nerves. Most of the other ‘proper’ San Angelenos have this pseudo-intellectual smugness that give the Architect from The Matrix a run for his money. There’s so much jargon and multi-syllable words spewing from these sanctimonious dorks that I for one am happy when things start blowing up. On the other hand, Denis Leary doesn’t so much play a character as he does himself if he were dropped into this world. That is to say, he starts messing shit up immediately. There’s even a rant heavily influenced by his “Asshole” song. It’s really nice to hear after an hour of future folk referring to everybody by their full names. At all times.

The movie holds together for most of its running time but there’s a point at which things kind of come undone. By the way, spoiler warning. So, Doctor Cocteau engineered this society to be free of crime and violence and everybody loves him because he saved them. Yet, he is the one who introduces Simon Phoenix into it, not just to hunt down Denis Leary, but to cause anarchy and chaos so he can rebuild the society. Again. In other words, he developed a utopia just so he could destroy it and build another utopia. For a good hour it seems like Cocteau is actually close to having a society free of irritants and yet he lets loose the biggest irritant of all. He easily could have kept Phoenix on a shorter leash and focused on the assassination rather than letting him run wild in San Angeles doing whatever the hell he wanted. For a character meant to be something of an evil mastermind, this strikes me as really, really stupid.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures
Maybe next time you’ll think your clever plan though, doc.

Demolition Man has some good things going for it. The best parts of the relationship between Joker and the Batman are extant between Simon Phoenix and John Spartan. Seeing these two action movie types in the setting of a defanged world is fun, as is the way they crap all over it – literally at one point, in the case of Spartan. But at the end of the day, it’s difficult for me to recommend the movie. There are better, smarter action comedies out there. I have to say, though, that seeing a big, beefy guy like Sylverster Stallone picking up a ball of yarn and wondering how the hell he knows what a zipperfoot and a bobbin are is pretty much worth the price of admission. It’s an interesting relic of the early ’90s, and every once in a while you can call it up on Netflix to indulge that feeling of nostalgia I mentioned, but as a rule, this movie’s best when treated like Simon Phoenix: for your safety and the safety of others, keep it on ice. If you want to introduce a little fun chaos and anarchy, thaw it out. But please, for the love of God, do not let it thaw out any of its friends. You’ve been warned.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Movie Review: Red

Seeing Red was admittedly not a choice I’d have made on my own. But my mother recommended it to me. Mom doesn’t see too many action flicks, you see. She has an aversion to rampant bloodshed and casual cluster F-bombs. So going into Red, knowing its premise, seeing MovieBob’s review and able to name pretty much the entire speaking-role cast off the top of my head, I figured I knew what I was in for. And I was right: Red was a good time, albeit something of a tame one.

Not that this is a bad thing, per se. Not every movie needs to be full of gore, profanity and gratuitous full-frontal nudity.

…What? It doesn’t. Stop looking at me like that.

Courtesy Summit Entertainment

Based somewhat loosely on a graphic novel penned by Warren Ellis, the man who gave us Transmetropolitan, Red centers on Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, an aging covert operative put out to pasture by his superiors. He isn’t finding retired life agreeable, and it’s quickly apparent that part of him will never stop being a spy. His only real joy comes from conversations with a young woman at the pension office whom he calls just to hear the sound of her voice. Then some guys show up and try to kill him. They fail, mostly because Frank’s still a badass, and he leaves his quiet life behind to discover that someone has flagged him and some former associates as “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.”

Thus the premise is established for a cast of Oscar-winners, venerable screen actors and some very bright rising stars to come together to have fun shooting guns, driving cars faster than the speed limit and blowing things up. On the surface, it seems pretty flimsy. The action bounces from location to location somewhat abruptly and without any sense of time actually passing. But it’s hard to consider that a major problem in the film when the cast is clearly having a great time.

Courtesy Summit Entertainment
God save us from the Queen.

Indeed, the venerable leading ensemble is Red‘s greatest strength. Without this cast working this will together and this naturally, this film would fall apart. Everybody is here doing what they do best. Bruce Willis is quietly and thoroughly badass. Morgan Freeman is charming, grandfatherly and… well, Morgan Freeman. John Malkovich is crazy. No, I mean batshit crazy. Even President God chimes in with “There’s something wrong with that boy.”

They cast Dame Helen Mirren as a wetworks asset, but honestly, she’s a damn thief. She steals the movie any time she’s on screen. Richard Dreyfuss pulls a respectable Dick Cheney impression as the film’s heavyweight, and while we’re on the subject of heavies, isn’t it nice to see Brian Cox in a role where he’s not the bad guy? He gets to smile, dance with the beautiful British woman and do the same sort of casually awesome things as the other big names. It’s a joy to behold.

Courtesy Summit Entertainment
“I can think of worse punishments for being in Doom than getting beat up by Bruce Willis.”

The newcomers in the cast aren’t bad, either. I’ve always liked Karl Urban, and he’s got underutilized range for a guy who keeps getting roped into action flicks. Then again, most of his pedigree was pretty impressive before this. He’s Eomer, the new Dr. McCoy, and I hear he’s going to be Judge frakin’ Dredd. As long as they keep Sly away from that one, I’d say the Mega-Cities are in good hands. Anyway, he’s good in this. He holds his own with the big names and that’s no small feat, even in a movie like this.

Mary-Louise Parker, whom some may know from Weeds is the girl who isn’t the Dame. She’s the voice with whom Frank has fallen in love. She’s decent as well, never coming across as a shrinking violet damsel in distress. It’s nice to see two women with dimension in an action comedy like this, but unfortunately Red fails the Bechdel test. The two chat about men while they’re hunkered down in Victoria’s sniper perch. The other problem I had with her character was that there was no real growth. She’s just as eager for travel and adventure at the end as she is in the beginning. It’s a minor quibble. But this movie’s got more than a few minor quibbles to it.

Courtesy Summit Entertainment
“Okay, sir, I’m going to have to transfer you to the Minor Quibbles department, please hold…”

Along with a flimsy premise, the plot’s also pretty standard. There’s no plot twist a movie-goer who’s seen at least a few action or espionage flicks won’t see coming. Sure, Red plays with an expectation or two, but for the most part there aren’t any big surprises to be had in here. Most of the best action & special-effects shots have been given away by the trailers. The one-liners are decent but I can’t remember a single one from the movie that’ll have me saying “That’s from Red” a year from now. Mostly because it was probably written elsewhere first. There’s also just a few too many stereotypes at work in here. Spoiler alert: The black guy dies. And the Russian guy’s name? Ivan.

At least he’s not the bad guy. Seeing him as an ally had me marking this above Salt right from the off. For its numerous plot problems — not holes, mind you, just problems with predictability — Red is actually decently written. None of the characters, stock though they may be, feel one-dimensional or caricatured. Except the Dick Cheney expy. But, seriously, screw that guy, he’s a dick. All in all, I can think of worse ways to spend an evening at the movies, especially when it’s on a parental dime.

Courtesy Summit Entertainment
“Son? Your mother sent us to have a word with you about your spending habits.”

Stuff I Liked: Karl Urban is back to kicking ass and he’s given something good to do with his skills. The action’s cleanly shot. The writing’s decent, especially for a Hollywood action comedy. It’s always cool to see Rebecca Pidgeon. And Ernest Borgnine looks pretty good for his many well-respected years.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: The plot’s terribly predictable. Mary-Louise Parker’s character doesn’t really go anywhere. I didn’t feel like I was seeing anything new; I couldn’t tell which bits were homages, which were parodies and which were meant to be both. Or neither.
Stuff I Loved: Damn, this cast. Great chemistry, well-paced banter, big-name movie people having a good time. There’s great little moments where a shot or a line can’t help but evoke a smile, from Frank’s gun of choice being the old Colt .45 automatic to just about anything Helen Mirren does. And Karl Urban’s precision F-strike is perfect.

Bottom Line: A cool little action comedy. Sure, it looks good on the big screen and you might have a decent time seeing it on the big screen, but I can’t help but think that the mediocrity might be smoothed over by some friends and booze.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

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Ours was a Transformers house. G.I. Joe wasn’t on anywhere near as much when I was growing up. In retrospect, this might be why my initial impression of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies was a little bit rosier than my overall take has become. So I went into G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra expecting a dumb, flashy action picture more in line with those movies than the colorful inventiveness of Iron Man or the “introspection coupled with action” brilliance of Equilibrium. I didn’t quite get what I expected, and I mean that in both the best and worst possible ways.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Following a very brief scene in 17th century France to give us the family history of the man who would be Destro, we open to find that man, James McCullen, showcasing a new weapon for his NATO investors. His arms company, MARS, supplies most of the world’s militaries with weaponry, pursuing his family’s policy of never getting caught selling arms to both sides. His new weapons’ warheads, which dissolve metal upon impact and self-replicate to encompass city-wide destruction provided a kill switch isn’t triggered, are left in the hands of a special ops unit ambushed and assaulted by a highly advanced force. Before the weapons can be stolen, however, a different highly advanced force comes to the rescue. The latter is G.I. Joe, an international black ops outfit formed of the best & brightest from around the world provided they can deal with silly nicknames. The mysterious bad guys still want the warheads, though, touching off a conflict that will define both teams forever. Oh, and don’t be fooled by the word “international” in there: G.I. Joe is still as American as baseball, apple pie and questionably motivated military interventionism.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
“A Real International Hero” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way.

When you go into a movie like G.I. Joe, there are certain expectations. There will be explosions, one-liners will be dispensed and you’d better bring your own batteries, as they are not included. However, this movie seems aware of this. It has some fun at its own expense. I’m reminded of the scenes in You Only Live Twice or Thunderball where James Bond dispenses a cadre of henchmen or breaks out a neat gadget and you can’t help but smile because you know it’s the result of invoking the Rule of Cool. This movie has a level of camp that never becomes overly silly, but it seems aware of this for the most part. I mean, it opens with the words “In the not too distant future.” And in another move that distinguishes this from Revenge of the Fallen, the fights are relatively clearly shot and paced so you never lose track of combatants or where the action is headed. As I mentioned, I didn’t expect a level of inventiveness I’d attribute to Marvel. But how often have you seen people doing parkour on moving cars? Or a dogfight under water?

Now, in a movie like this, you can’t expect top-flight actors to give their all. That said, most of the performances fall on the “passable” side of “phoning it in.” The Joes we’re introduced to during the first real action sequence are actually a well-balanced team, and Rachel Nichols in particular tries to give Scarlett a little bit of depth and nuance. I really liked her, Snake Eyes, Breaker and Heavy Duty. Dennis Quaid seems to be here just to be the gruff leader and Brendan Frasier has a cute little cameo. They’re not ground-breaking characters and lean towards cliché, but what do you expect? It’s G.I. Joe! There’s kickass energy weapons, cool vehicles and freakin’ ninjas! We’re here to have fun, right?

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
He knows war is good for business, and knowing is half the battle.

On the Cobra/MARS side of things, I have to say there were times I didn’t quite buy Christopher Eccleston’s Scottish accent. Still, he gave McCullen a sort of cultured gravitas I wasn’t expecting, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role had a touch of mad menace I really appreciated. This is Cobra we’re talking about, so of course things lean towards the sort of malevolent camp that makes Blofeld look like a Machivellian genius, but it’s more fun than laughable where these two are concerned. Oh, and Arnold Vosloo just owns the Zartan role. He’s a very bright spot in this film. Again – having fun’s the order of the day.

There was a lot of potential in G.I. Joe. I was on board for some of the action-aimed fun and I found myself really wanting to like it. When the movie’s firing on all cylinders, it’s a fast, fun and inventive little action flick. But like a date who chats you up pleasantly for an hour at the local pub only to duck out for a “phone call” and never come back, sticking you with the check and refusing to respond to your texts afterwards, this movie let me down. I could point to the overuse of action clichés, the occasional bit of dodgy CGI or the fact that there’s a reason why ice floats (I’m looking at you, climactic action sequence). So what makes me feel like G.I. Joe is so full of potential but ultimately a let-down? The answer lies in some spoilertastic territory, so fairly be ye warned.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
A scene from G.I. Joe, or Halo? Hard to tell, isn’t it?

Let’s start with Channing Tatum. You don’t really need to do a lot to carry an action flick as the hero or main protagonist. Kick ass, take names, crack wise and show a bit of emotion here and there to inform the motivations of the character. Tatum as Duke does kick ass. But he doesn’t seem interested in taking names, his one-liners are utterly flat and he has the emotional range of a brick. Considering the ways we see Rachel Nichols, Saïd Taghmaoui and even Ray Park show emotion here and there, I don’t think I can legitimately fault director Stephen Sommers or the writers – for this. Tatum feels like a beefier, even less emotive Hayden Christensen. He’s not having fun, and since he’s our main protagonist, it waters down our fun as well. On the other hand, I think I’ve found the perfect guy to play Master Chief in the inevitable Halo movie! Michael Bay, give Channing a call! I’m sure he’ll be excited to be a part of it. Not that you’ll be able to tell.

Then, there’s Marlon Wayans. I haven’t liked anything a Wayans brother has done in terms of acting since In Living Color, save for maybe Blankman or Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood. Half the time Marlon as Ripcord just looks sort of lost. The other half, I just struggled to take him seriously. To me, it feels like he’s trying and failing to channel Will Smith. His jokes never really made me laugh, I didn’t buy him as either an action hero or the sort of guy to figure out the connection between the attack on the Joe’s base and McCullen – his line felt like it should have belonged to Breaker. He just feels superfluous, along for the ride, sort of tacked on. He’s not having fun because he’s trying too hard. I’m really not sure how to articulate why his presence made me so uncomfortable past my personal lack of affinity for the Wayans brothers in general and Marlon in particular. So let’s move on to the real deal-breaker.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

I’m going to get this out in the open: I dig Sienna Miller. She smoldered in Layer Cake and completely nailed the selfish Victoria in Stardust. I think she did the most with what she was handed in this, and for the most part she pulls off a classic femme fatale in a black catsuit with kickass guns and the coolest pair of Transitions lenses ever. The problem I have here is the exact opposite of the one I have with Channing Tatum. I feel Duke would have been fine in the hands of another actor. The Baroness, on the other hand, bothered me because she was assaulted in the writer’s room and never really recovered.

You see, for most of the film the Baroness is a cunning, smirking, damn fine looking kicker of ass who loves every minute of being the bad girl. She especially delighted in playing her rich scientist husband for a sap, and watching Storm Shadow and McCullen vie for her affections. For some reason, though, this sort of strong female antagonist seemed to intimidate the writers, who worked in a relationship with Duke right from the beginning. As much as I loved seeing a black-haired Sienna blowing things up and complimenting other girls on their shoes while she points a gun at them, in the back of my mind there was a sinking feeling as I felt I knew where this was going. Sure enough, towards the end the Baroness pulls a High Heel Face Turn. But wait! It gets worse! It turns out she was brainwashed into working for MARS the whole time, so all of her awesome villainy wasn’t even her fault! She’s really a sweet girl who missed Duke and was ready to forgive him for the pain he caused her! Seeing an interesting character and a strong female one at that completely undermined in this way just made me sick. At that point I very nearly turned my back on the whole affair, but I was already on around the 110th minute so I figured I might as well see it through to the end. It never got better. I’m sorry, but this sort of character derailment just isn’t fun for me, and while some of the characters are bad or flat, this sort of thing is just completely inexcusable.

Like I said, I wanted to have fun watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but going back to my baseball analogy: One, two, three strikes – you’re OUT!

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a film that’s difficult to put into a genre. Its central story is, at first glance, a romance. A great deal of the dialog is comedic. But how many romantic comedies do you know where the conflicts are resolved through kung-fu matches? And how many kung-fu battles have you seen in a movie that include running scores, power-ups and visible sound effects? The term “something for everybody” gets bandied about a great deal, but Scott Pilgrim just might fit that bill. The problem with having so many of these elements in a film, however, is that some elements don’t get as much time as they should.

That isn’t to say this movie is bad. This movie is far from bad. This movie, in fact, is very good, and you should go see it if you haven’t already.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Scott Pilgrim. Age: 22. Rating: Awesome.

Based on the acclaimed series of graphic novels by Brian Lee O’Malley, the eponymous Scott Pilgrim is a Canadian bass player who’s unashamedly between jobs, dating a high schooler and mooching off of his gay roommate Wallace, who tolerates Scott because it’s fun to watch him squirm when discomforting things happen to him. Scott’s precious little life takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious girl named Ramona Flowers skates through his dreams. Drawn to Ramona’s mature and world-weary personality, Scott encounters more than he bargained for when he is attacked by Ramona’s evil exes. Like Mega Man needing to defeat a series of Robot Masters to restore order in the world, Scott Pilgrim needs to defeat a series of super-powered individuals to get what he wants. Luckily, despite being a slacker and a dweeb, Scott’s also the best fighter in the province. As for what he wants, let’s take a look at Scott as he’s depicted in the film.

Let me make this perfectly clear: if you pass up on this movie because you don’t like Michael Cera, you are making a mistake. It’s not that I don’t understand where the ire against Cera comes from. Previously, in romantic comedies, he’s cast in the role of the screenwriter’s projection of the ‘right guy’ for the girl. You know what I mean, the sensitive, quiet, intelligent and otherwise marginalized young man who’s so much better for the girl than the large, attractive, macho jerks she tends to date – a Marty Stu, if you will. Now, while Ramona has dated some jerks, and Scott is somewhat sensitive and quiet… he’s also, himself, a jerk. He knows he’s sensitive but he uses that sensitivity to milk those around him for sympathy. His intelligence is applied to remaining as free from responsibility as possible. He exists in a personal space that I think a lot of young men of my generation, including myself, have at one point or another: the militant refusal to grow up. In a way, the ‘final boss’ in the story is the kind of person Scott could become if he’s not careful – a pretentious, self-centered, smirking and completely slimy hipster douchebag.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
+2 versus critics.

Meeting Ramona (very well played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) doesn’t just change Scott’s life because he has to fight to the death in order to date her. The message she conveys to Scott and, by extension, those of us in the audience who live or have lived in that aforementioned Neverland in our heads, is as necessary as it is harsh. “You’re not Peter Pan. You have to grow up. You need to get over yourself. If you can stop being self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing you can let the good things about yourself shine through and speak for themselves; otherwise, you’re going to turn into something you hate.” Ramona also presents us with a personification of the sort of things we deal with when we get to know somebody. Their past, the people they’ve loved and lost, the mistakes they’ve made that haunt them; this ‘baggage’ doesn’t just sit around. It’s active and nearly constant, trying to keep us out of the moment and pulling us back into the past. While ultimately the battle Scott needs to have is with himself for his own sake, he also needs to be willing to fight past Ramona’s baggage in order to be a part of her future.

Now, when you get right down to it, all of this unsubtle metaphorical self-examination occurs under a surface of retro gaming references, genuinely funny comedy, a slew of callbacks to the graphic novels and some really memorable performances. Kieran Culkin’s come out of nowhere to own the role of Wallace, Scott’s smirking roommate who acts as something of a mentor. The League of Evil Exes seems to have come to life directly from O’Malley’s pages, and Chris Evans and Brandon Routh in particular seem to be having a great deal of fun in their roles, which I found quite amusing personally as I tend to think of them as Captain America and Superman, respectively. And I will admit, when the dual cameo shows up at the end of Scott’s fight with a particular evil ex, I went into full fanboy mode. I’ll say nothing more for fear of spoilers.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
So here’s a picture of Sex Bob-Omb instead.

It’s not a perfect movie. Condensing six novel-length parts of a narrative into a two-hour movie means things are going to get trimmed, watered and reduced down. A few of the characters are robbed of some of their development, and even Scott’s growth towards the end is somewhat truncated compared to how it occurs in the books. Now, the books were still in production when the film started shooting, so the last third overall is different from the source material. However, I think a lot of the people who still didn’t feel any sympathy whatsoever towards Scott at the end might have been buoyed up by some of those missing experiences. Not that Scott or any protagonist necessarily needs to be 100% sympathetic in order to carry a story – in fact, Scott’s jerkass behavior in the beginning and middle of the movie drives home his need to get over himself all the more, and holds up that rather uncomfortable mirror to those of us who’ve been there.

In spite of its flaws, I really liked Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Director Edgar Wright, the man who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, really makes the visuals pop off of the screen and worked with O’Malley to ensure the characters that do get developed do so in a well-paced arc that shows their complexity and their humanity. There’s a lot of great music throughout the movie, the visual style is a quirky flavor of awesome, the dialog is smart and the fights all have a great deal of energy. The video game rules by which Scott Pilgrim’s Toronto operates go unexplained but, really, we don’t need to understand why Scott has a Pee Bar or where he stashes all of those coins after a fight. When the ex leaves him more than 2.40 Canadian, that is.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Reversal!!

Stuff I Liked: I’ve yet to see an Edgar Wright film I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. Michael Cera acquits himself well with a very faithful and very good Scott Pilgrim. The messages in this movie are necessary to our generation and rather clearly conveyed under all the trappings of indie rock and 8-bit kung fu.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A lot of the characters – Kim Pine, Stephen Stills, Envy Adams and Stacey Pilgrim, to name just a few – feel a little underdeveloped. The metaphors aren’t terribly subtle. I expected Scott to have a little more smirking self-confidence at first to more closely follow his arc in the books, but this is a minor quibble. And I really didn’t like how people went to see The Expendables or Eat, Pray, Love instead of this film. America, I am disappoint.
Stuff I Loved: The music. The fights. The fact that Toronto is actually playing Toronto instead of standing in for America. Ramona, Wallace, Knives and the League of Evil Exes. The playful, retro and refreshing visual aesthetic. This exchange:

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Young Neil: “What’re you doing?”
Scott: “Getting a life.”

Bottom Line: Go see this movie. I plan on buying it on DVD when it comes out. Brian Lee O’Malley, Edgar Wright, this great cast and a hard-working crew have labored to produce something fresh, original and fun while other studios churn out the cinematic equivalent of a corner convenience store hot dog. You know, the ones that have been sitting under heating lamps for at least four hours? Ew. See Scott Pilgrim vs. The World instead of the other stuff that’s out there. Trust me. You will not be disappointed.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Kick-Ass

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A lot of production companies, investors and even film-makers like to assume that we, as a movie-going audience, are stupid. They think we can’t handle movies with deep characters, complex plots or themes that transcend a work and try to tell us something about ourselves. So more often than not, a movie about giant fighting robots or girls with guy trouble or unlikely partners solving crimes tend to be watered down in such a way that they’re palatable to the blandest, lowest common denominator of palate out there. Thankfully, some other projects aren’t afraid to take a chance on something smart, to take conventions we as an audience might take for granted and flip things around just to see what happens. Kick-Ass falls into the latter category, not only in that it adapts one of those comic books that looks at super-heroes from a completely different perspective as most mainstream IPs, but also in that this adaptation differs quite a bit from the book. I wouldn’t know, since I haven’t read the books myself, so I’ll be cribbing notes from critics far better (or at least better known) than myself.

Dr. Punchy Wright can hunt me down later and break my face if it really becomes an issue.

Courtesy LionsGate Entertainment

Taking cues from the Spider-Man movies back when they were still good, Kick-Ass introduces us to a teenage high school loser who is both a social outcast and an unashamed nerd. He does well enough in school to not be in the slacker crowd, he certainly isn’t a jock, he’s practically invisible to girls (which he claims is his “only real superpower”) and among his friends, to paraphrase his own words, he’s not the funny one. And yet, it’s living this kind of mediocre existence that leads him to buy a dopey-looking wetsuit, pick up a baton and start fighting crime. Or trying to. Mostly, he gets the crap beaten out of him. However, somebody with a camera phone tosses his exploits at the Internet, and WHAM, he’s a star. He’s a super-hero. And he’s getting pulled bodily into an escalating confrontation between a sadistic mob boss who’s also a family man, and a devoted father/endearing daughter team who are also sadistic costumed vigilantes.

Kick-Ass, as a comic, seems to be in the same vein as Watchmen or Wanted, taking a more cynical view of the world of super-heroism and trying to inject a dose of realism or humanity into the characters involved. Of the three, Watchmen weathered the transition to the screen the most intact, with its themes and nuances preserved in a nearly immaculate fashion. It’s a haunting commentary on the human condition couched in the deconstruction of super-heroes in general. Wanted was changed almost entirely from its comic book roots, which is a shame because a lot of the fun in that work comes from the way its protagonists behave given that they have super powers but none of the constraints of being ‘heroes’. Read the book if you want to know what I’m talking about, but what Wanted got right was the theme of doing something with your life that gets you out of the mundane things that you know in your mind are slowly killing you, but you do them anyway because it’s easier to get paid for that crap than it is to try something new and potentially dangerous. Kick-Ass also changes, ejecting as it does a lot of the cynicism from the printed page and opting for a more balanced moralistic stance. Sure, some of the stuff on screen is dark and a jab is taken at the audience’s expectations once or twice, but on the whole, part of what makes the experience so good is that it’s more interested in having fun than pointing out how pathetic you are.

Courtesy LionsGate Entertainment

As a character, Kick-Ass is aware of how pathetic he is but he doesn’t let that stop him. He’s determined to at least try to make a difference, and it leads to him being extremely endearing and a true underdog of a hero. I think that some people might overlook Aaron Johnson’s work entirely but I can’t do that in good conscience. This is a solid leading role and as much as the movie is almost stolen entirely from his character, Johnson still comes through on the other side with a performance that is one of the best I’ve seen in a movie like this since the first two Spider-Man films.

In fact, Kick-Ass is, in terms of being endearing and realistic, almost a better Spider-Man than Spider-Man was. This film made me miss those early days of Tobey Maguire getting to know his powers and trying like hell to win Mary Jane’s heart. Both his Spider-Man and Aaron Johnson’s Kick-Ass have as their core power, not radioactive webbing or gamma rays or a magical MacGuffin, but real heart and a never-say-die attitude. If Kick-Ass as a film were a more cynical work, the optimism that fuels the teenage hero would have him dead in the 89th minute, the camera pulling back from his broken and lifeless body before cutting to black as some ironically upbeat music plays.

Courtesy LionsGate Entertainment

The film isn’t without some delicious soundtrack dissonance, however, and when it comes to that sort of thing, I will be hard-pressed to name a better example than Hit-Girl going to town on bad guys with bladed weapons to the music of the Banana Splits. Chloe Moretz completely owns both this role and pretty much any time she’s on screen. She’s the Comedian from Watchmen only 11 years old and wearing pig-tails: completely aware of how damn depraved her actions are but not giving a shit because she’s slaying bad guys. She knows that what she does shocks onlookers and will leave the cops who show up at the scene speechless, and that’s the whole point. If this is what she does to folks who break the law, what chance have you got? Better put down the cocaine and turn yourself in before you end up with a balisong in the throat, boss.

A lot of critics cried out in dismay at the very notion of this little girl perpetuating and, even worse, being the target of this level of high-energy, unabashed and completely bone-crunching violence. They seem to think that sick thrills or cheap laughs would be derived from the end result. It’s like the outcry that emerged when BioWare advertised Mass Effect included sex: completely uninformed and totally wrong. No, Hit-Girl’s exploits are not played for laughs. The way this girl has been brought up is entirely backwards. She knows it, her father knows it, and the audience knows it, too. However, she makes the most of what she’s got, because railing against her father’s vendetta is only going to make things worse. She wants her father to be happy, and the most expedient way to do that is to cut a bloody swath through the people who made his life miserable. Hit-Girl is a smart, dedicated and deep down very compassionate character, even if she is violent, cruel, foul-mouthed and maybe a little cracked. She’s got more complexity than most female characters in films today, and I for one am glad that the makers of Kick-Ass didn’t pull a single punch when it came to putting her through her paces.

Courtesy LionsGate Entertainment

Speaking of Hit-Girl’s upbringing, another strong performance in Kick-Ass is Nicholas Cage as Big Daddy. His costume, performance and methodology are clearly a send-up of Batman, but his character is unconstrained by Batman’s one rule of not killing his opponents. If Batman did ever eschew that rule, it would look a lot like this. As a result, Big Daddy might be one of the best depictions of Batman ever, if that makes any sense. Cage does some things with the character that are at once fantastic and downright strange, and it’s a testament to his capabilities as an actor that are sometimes undercut by a bland concept or bad screenwriting, like National Treasure, Next or Ghost Rider. In fact, I’m going to say this right now, and I don’t care who knows it: I like Nicholas Cage. I think he’s talented and I enjoy watching him on-screen, even if I’m laughing at his ass. Half the crap he does isn’t necessarily his fault, and even when he’s off, he’s still memorable. I like him. There. I said it.

In terms of the rest of the production, Christopher Mintz-Plasse may surprise some of the fans of McLovin in his turn as a fellow comic-book fan donning a costume and calling himself Red Mist. It’s part of a plot that works very well and hums along without losing the audience, bolstered by the musical choices in both soundtrack and score. The film isn’t perfect, as the low budget shows in places and sometimes the film seems to have a bit of filler here and there, but it never gets in the way of the movie being fun. I get the feeling that a lot of the look and feel of the movie comes right out of the comics, and as much as the blacker portions of the story and theme have been left behind, the result still manages to take a jab at us as the audience as much as it puts its characters through the wringer. Like the changes made to Watchmen, my suspicion is that Matthew Vaughn and company kept to the spirit of the work while changing things up a bit to make the story a bit more suited for the silver screen.

Regardless of all of that, Kick-Ass kicks ass. Provided you’re a fan of super-heroes and not put off by the sort of hyper-realized violence that would be right at home in a Sam Peckinpah or Paul Verhoven flick, it belongs on your Netflix queue if not your DVD shelf. It’s a brutal, no-holds-barred, steel-toed-boot-to-the-crotch-while-laughing-all-the-while action comedy that has no fear, no hesitation and no limits. It’s a roller coaster through a demented carnival of bright costumes and gushing blood that occasionally smacks you in the face with a water balloon with profanity scribbled all over it in Sharpie.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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