Archive for April, 2010

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.

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.