Review: Kick-Ass

Posted in Reviews on April 18, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* *1/2 out of four stars

“Kick-Ass” is a rebellious superhero film, a movie that throws away convention and has a real bad attitude. It’s gloriously violent, incredibly crude and very funny. It deserves a positive review for its originality. But I must express my misgivings about the film; feelings I’m not thrilled about and in response am knocking down a half-star.

The film is about regular people wanting to be superheroes. Dave (Aaron Johnson, “Nowhere Boy”) is an average, normal teenager. So ordinarily normal, in fact, that the object of his desires doesn’t even notice he’s just a few lockers down from her. His only friends are comic-book geeks and his favorite activity is masturbation. Dave wants a life. So he decides to dress up in a costume and go around town helping people, just like a superhero. He gets his butt kicked, and is even rushed to the hospital for his wounds. He doesn’t give up his superhero personality, though. In fact, he gives it a name: Kick-Ass.

His heroic struggles are captured on camera, and soon he is getting emails of praise and cries for help. Even the girl he likes begins to notice him, though she believes he’s gay.

Kick-Ass inspires a father and his daughter to put on masks. They are Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, “Knowing”) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, “500 Days of Summer”), a dangerous duo on the prowl for a crime boss who got Big Daddy framed and put in jail, during which time his pregnant wife committed suicide. Fortunately the baby survived, and is all a part of her father’s plan to take down the crime lord, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong, “Sherlock Holmes”), whose son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “Superbad”) is eagerly awaiting his ascension into the family business.

Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are characters I kind of liked. I thought Hit-Girl was a very sympathetic character as well as a very fun superhero. Big Daddy was a little too far on the dark side for me to sympathize with him. When we first meet BD, he is teaching his daughter how to take a bullet to the chest while wearing a bullet-proof vest. He has also trained her to become a very skilled assassin.

But superheroes are not assassins, they’re saviors. Kick-Ass wishes to have this image, but as he continues to get beat up, he begins to see the side of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl.

So… is “Kick-Ass” supposed to be a superhero film? Or a dark comedy about superheroes? Or a movie about trained killers fighting trained killers? There is a lot of bloody violence in this film, which I’m all for… but when it’s the heroes doing all the dirty work, it makes me question how “super” they really are. To me, real superheroes don’t use guns (no comic fans, The Punisher is not a superhero) and they don’t set out to kill people. Any portrayal of these costumed heroes doing just that is dead wrong.

So if you go with the argument that “Kick-Ass” is not a superhero movie, good. You will definitely like this funny, well-done film. If you go in expecting “Spider-Man,” “Batman” or even “Mystery Men” prepare yourself for disappointment.

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Review: Death at a Funeral

Posted in Reviews on April 17, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

“Death at a Funeral” takes the depressing notion of Murphy’s law and applies it to a disaster of a funeral. Everything goes wrong in the film because there is so much to go wrong.

Aaron (Chris Rock) has lost his father. So has the funeral home. When Aaron’s father’s casket is open, it is not the African-American elder laying there. Instead it’s a middle-aged Asian. “You’ve got Jackie Chan in there!” cries Aaron. “This isn’t Burger King… you can’t just mess up my order!” Once the real father is found, the family and friends begin to arrive. Aaron’s brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), his cousins Elaine (Zoe Saldana) and Jeff (Columbus Short), their father Duncan (Ron Glass), Elaine’s nervous boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden), the grouchy Uncle Russell (Danny Glover), and friends Derek (Luke Wilson) and Norman (Tracey Morgan). It is an incredibly motley crew.

Trouble happens everywhere. I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s see…

Jeff is a secretive drug dealer whose pill containers are not always what they seem. Jeff’s sister Elaine gives boyfriend Oscar something that looks like Valium after he confesses having anxiety. But it wasn’t Valium… it was a hallucinogenic. So for the better part of the day, Oscar is going nuts, and most of the time he is completely naked on the roof of Aaron’s house. Meanwhile, buddies Derek and Norman are sent to pick up Uncle Ruessell from the nursing home. Uncle Russell is confined to a wheelchair, and at one point needs some personal assistance from Norman while he relieves himself (his relief is going out the back door). As Russell, Danny Glover almost steals the movie. His grumpy apathy about the whole affair gives him some of the best lines (especially, “Let’s just burn him and get it over with”).

Aaron is a struggling writer. He is struggling to write a novel, but unlike brother Ryan, he is not very successful. Aaron and Ryan have had a long-lasting feud that mainly centers on Aaron’s resentment of Ryan’s writing success. But when the mysterious and tiny Frank (Peter Dinklage) shows up and announces to Aaron that he was romantically involved with Aaron and Ryan’s father, the two brothers are forced to come together and stop Frank from revealing scandalous pictures to their grieving mother. What ensues is a frantic effort to stop Frank, calm Oscar, reassure their mother, deal with Uncle Russell and try not to get on each other’s nerves until the whole shindig is over.

And what a shindig! There are gross-out moments, obscene hilarity and a very funny script by Dean Craig, who also wrote the original 2007 British film. Aside from Glover, other stand-out performances come from Tracey Morgan, who is paranoid about a discoloration on his arm, and James Marsden as the high-as-a-kite Oscar.

There is plenty to laugh at in “Death at a Funeral,” which takes a very funny look at a somber occasion.

Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Posted in Reviews on April 11, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* out of four stars

If someone were to ask me which “Clash of the Titans” film I prefer more, I’d probably ask them if “Battlefield Earth” could be an alternative option. “Clash of the Titans” is bad, no matter what decade you’re in.

Here’s a list of everything I hated about this updated version: the faster-than-light storyline, which needed to stop and explain things every now and then but never cared to. The cheesy attempt at Shakespearian acting from Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelson, Jason Flemyng and Sam Worthington. The effects, which would’ve looked pretty good in, say, 2003, but look cheesy in 2010. The one-note characters, including Zeus (Neeson), Perseus (Worthington), Io (Gemma Arterton), Hades (Fiennes) and several more. In fact, the only fascinating character was Draco, portrayed with wooden delivery by Mads Mikkelson. And then there’s the cameo of Owl-2D2, the golden robot owl from the original version. This appearance, used as a joke, takes away from the illusion and reality of the film and ultimately gets in the way of the scene. It’s stupid! Don’t do it!

The plot is the same as the original. Perseus, a demigod and son of God President Zeus, joins the fight between man and gods, taking sides with man. I think if any man found out he was the son of a god and therefore a god himself, he’d be pretty thrilled about it. Either that, or he would use this power to heal and ultimately save the human race. Perseus wants to kill the gods and wage war and inexplicably wants nothing to do with his heritage.

The costumes look ridiculous too. They’re always clean and neat with no holes or damages. And, all of the soldiers wear red t-shirts, something that wasn’t around in the time period of “Clash of the Titans.”

What this film needs most is a complete rewrite and a longer runtime, long enough to develop plot, characters and surroundings. This film is without a sense of awe, and doesn’t seem too inspired by anything. I hope this is the biggest disappointment of the year. Anything could be better than this.

Review: Date Night

Posted in Reviews on April 11, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

Plenty of mayhem and crazy hijinks happen in “Date Night,” the new movie that brilliantly pairs “The Office’s” Steve Carell with “30 Rock’s” Tina Fey. The two are probably the funniest people on television right now, and together they make for the perfectly hilarious duo.

They play Phil and Claire Foster, a boring New Jersey couple so bogged down with work and kids that they barely have any time for each other. Once a week, they drag themselves out of their busy lives to go on a date, where they eat the same food at the same restaurant and barely manage to make conversation. Finally, Phil has had enough monotony, and out of fear of losing the marriage out of boredom, he drags Claire to a fancy restaurant in New York, stealing a reservation for a couple called the Tripplehorns (who don’t show up), and finally having a fancy night to themselves.

That is, at first. Their dinner is interrupted by two thugs looking for the Tripplehorns. They don’t believe the Fosters’ story, and when they demand the Fosters turn over a flash drive that belongs to a mobster (Ray Liotta, in an uncredited role) or else, the Fosters quickly panic and improvise. This leads to a huge chase through New York City as the Fosters try to figure out who the real Tripplehorns are and how they can get the flash drive and clear their names.

It seems like the past year or so, gross-out comedies like “The Hangover” and “Hot Tub Time Machine” have fared much better than the old-fashioned kind. “Date Night” puts a stop to this. It’s a very funny ride which relies not on the gross-out factor, but on the well-written screenplay and compatibility of its leading couple. Carell and Fey have never been funnier. The script by Josh Klausner is very smart and feels like it was written specifically for Carell and Fey.

The supporting cast is also impressive, consisting of William Fichtner, James Franco, Common, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo and Mark Wahlberg in an unforgettable role. As a plus, “Date Night” gives you one more good reason to see it in theaters: it makes for the perfect date movie.

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

Posted in Reviews on March 28, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

I think the last comedy I went to simply because of the name was “Dude, Where’s My Car?” But where “Dude” falls short, “Hot Tub Time Machine” prevails.

“Hot Tub Time Machine.” What a great name! It’s a hot tub, but it’s also a time machine. And when four good friends on the vacation from hell get together in a run-down, beat up hotel that was once the home of crazy partying and drunken (or stoned) sex and decide to get in and get drunk, they wake up the next morning twenty-four years in the past with a major hangover.

John Cusack (“Say Anything,” “High Fidelity”) plays the unlucky-in-love Adam. His two best friends are the former musician Nick (Craig Robinson, “The Office”) and crazy drug addict Lou (Rob Corddry, “The Daily Show”). When Lou ends up in the hospital after a near accidental suicide, Adam and Nick visit him in the hospital with an offer to take him to their old stomping grounds up in the mountains. Little do they know that within twenty-four hours they will be reliving their twenties, with all the mishaps and craziness that went with it.

The movie presents time travel as a way to have more sex, drugs, alcohol and money. Who wouldn’t go back in time to make a few bets on sports games? It worked in “Back to the Future Part II!” The main focus on the film is when our heroes decide not to change anything in the past until the hot tub is fixed. Chevy Chase (“National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Community”) plays the repairman for the tub, always giving a slight hint as to why the characters are there and how they can get back. They also make reference to the butterfly effect, where a single bug being squished could cause the end of the world… for example, a squirrel gets puked on and later shows up at a pivotal moment, changing history.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” is raunchy, vulgar and hilarious as well. It works as a coming-of-middle-age adventure and a funny comedy about friendship and living life to its fullest.

Review: How to Train Your Dragon

Posted in Reviews on March 27, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* * * out of four stars

If you are going to see “How to Train Your Dragon,” see it in 3D. The movie really lends itself to the 3D effect. The locations and artistry in the film make for a flashy adventure that delighted the kid in me.

I did not see it in 3D because 3D usually gives me headaches. Now I wish I would’ve. DreamWorks’ latest animated feature takes place in a small Viking town populated with men and women who constantly engage in battle with dragons. We are introduced to the town by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, “She’s Out of My League”), a young boy with no build and no ability to fight dragons. But not until he captures the most elusive dragon of all does he begin to change everything. He names the dragon Toothless, and I’m pleased to report that Toothless doesn’t talk. Toothless has a damaged wing thanks to Hiccup’s lucky shot, so Hiccup, after deciding he can’t bring himself to kill the poor thing, decides to mend the wing and train the dragon in secret.

This film as well as last year’s “Battle for Terra” are very similar to “Avatar.” However while “Battle for Terra” comes off as a huge rip-off, “How to Train Your Dragon” just has similar themes. The comparison of the two is being debated on the internet, but I thought “How to Train Your Dragon” stands on its own and doesn’t try to reflect any other movie.

The visuals are very good in the film. This is a movie with lots to look at. The dragons are both scary and cute, the Vikings are very over-the-top warriors (with the town’s chief being voiced by “300’s” Gerard Butler) and even eat their roasted chickens in entirety as single servings on a stick.

The moral of the movie is good and will appeal to the young, the animation and 3D effects should please kids of all ages and parents should get a kick out of it too.

Review: Repo Men

Posted in Reviews on March 21, 2010 by C.F. Varnau

* out of four stars

“Repo Men” needed a high speed chase with flying cars, a stunt where someone jumps from something onto a moving something else, more time in the stripper joint, a well-choreographed fist fight, someone blowing something up with a rocket launcher, a sex scene, more stuff blowing up, a techno-influenced musical score and a much more acceptable ending. This wouldn’t have made the story better, but it at least would’ve given us more to enjoy.

As the film progressed, I hated it more and more. Jude Law, who starred in the similar David Cronenberg film “eXistenZ,” plays Remy, a Repo Man for a large medical corporation which specializes in making artificial organs for a high price. Fail to pay and Remy and buddy Jake (Forest Whitaker, “Ghost Dog,” “The Last King of Scotland”) come to repossess the company’s product… by taking the organ out of them. “But this rarely ever happens,” lies evil corporate president Frank (Live Schreiber, “Defiance,” “Wolverine”) who takes pleasure in getting his merchandise back.

Something happens to Remy, an action so unsuspicious that when we learn the truth behind it we don’t understand why, nor do we get a satisfying explanation… but anyway, this something happens to Remy and he has to get an artificial heart. To answer your next question, yes, eventually Remy cannot pay for it and decides to run from the company.

This film is preposterous, and the fact I’m saying that means something. The film would be less preposterous if it were more preposterous. Let me explain. About halfway through the movie, it becomes very unbelievable. How, for example, could Remy survive such a huge blow to the head from a huge metal crane? How can someone cut themselves open and move an object around in their own bodies without passing out? And finally, is everyone in the corporation required to carry around a knife in their briefcase? The answer to these questions is stupid, and to top it off, it’s all the same answer.

The ending of the film couldn’t be more angering, but I won’t give it away. It attempts to be more surprising than it really is. It’s a stupid, disappointing ending that pranks the audience more than satisfies it. It’s a bad attempt to make sense of everything. It doesn’t work.

Where are my high-speed chase and rocket launchers? If we’re going to do the implausible, do it with more style. Then we’ll stop caring and enjoy the ride. In one word, to quote MAD Magazine, “Blecch!”