Kick-Ass Warlords at a Funeral (Weekly Links)

Chloe Moretz and Mark Strong: truly Kick-Ass.

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

Kick-Ass. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Just in the last few days the cultural commentators of the world have noticed that the new movie “Kick-Ass” features a little girl who dresses as a super-hero, kills bad guys by the handful, and swears like a U.S. vice-president.

Yep, the movie’s being provocative. Way provocative.

That outrageous character, Hit Girl, was already in Mark Millar’s popular 2008 comic book series, so everybody had warning. It’s just that the movie’s R-rated trailer left no doubt about how far the cinematic “Kick-Ass” was ready to go.

And the petite assassin Hit Girl isn’t even the protagonist. “Kick-Ass” looks at a socially awkward teen, Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), who wonders why more normal people don’t try to be secret crime-fighters, like Batman.

So he mail-orders a mask and suit and goes out to protect the innocent. He calls himself Kick-Ass, although the posterior being booted is most often his own. Still, thanks to the quickness of Internet notoriety, he becomes something of a hero. This is annoying to Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), who are effective in chasing criminals while wearing capes and masks.

Their main target: a wealthy crime boss (Mark Strong), whose whiny son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, from “Superbad”) will play a role in how the plot works out.

Ye of delicate sensibilities will want to steer clear, but the decision to play the material as a R-rated, foul-mouthed melee was actually kind of appropriate. Context is everything, and the amoral spree that “Kick-Ass” presents has a giddy quality that comes from certain boundaries being smashed. Tame it down to a PG-13 rating, and there’s no reason for it to exist.

The director is Matthew Vaughn, who did the smartass Brit gangster flick “Layer Cake,” with which this movie shares a spirit, as well as a few gargoyle-like supporting actors. Vaughn’s attitude is too smirky by half, and his most annoying tic is blasting wacky pop songs while mayhem erupts. Want Hit Girl to slay half the room? Play a hyper version of the “Tra La La Song,” aka the theme from “The Banana Splits.” (Of course, I can’t get the Prodigy’s infectious “Stand Up” out of my head now, which is not a bad thing.)

Give Vaughn credit for getting spirited work from the tiny, profane Chloe Moretz and the taller, less profane Aaron Johnson (who’ll play John Lennon in a coming biopic). And for giving the whole enterprise such a daft, ridiculous energy.

This movie is a real triple-shot mocha espresso with whipped cream: totally empty calories, but providing a lot of buzz as you knock it back. This is the kind of movie people think they’re complaining about when they complain about Quentin Tarantino movies but haven’t actually seen one: it’s violent for fun, and superficial in its sensations. I can’t recommend it as a healthy meal, but I can’t deny the buzz, either.

Death at a Funeral. “Slapsticky excuse for some very broad gags.”

The Warlords. “You’d better be into this kind of movie.”

The Joneses. “The scalpel is replaced by the soft soap.”

The Eclipse. “A character study with a few otherworldly moments thrown about.”

Barking Water. “A gentle mood that feels authentic.”

I talk about the jailing of Jafar Panahi on KUOW’s “Weekday” with Steve Scher, here. The movie bit starts about 17:30 in.

And Rotten, the 184-page trade paperback, is available for pre-order; Amazon.com has it here, for instance. It’s probably a good idea to order your copy now, don’t you think?

Movie Diary 4/12/2010

Carrie (Brian DePalma, 1976). You probably know this movie. DePalma’s usual mix of elegance and clumsiness laid very bare. The bravura stuff still works really beautifully. Though set in the Seventies, it feels much more like the adolescent turf of DePalma and Stephen King, the 1950s.

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008). This will end up being a movie to put on every now and then. It all works, even McDonagh’s reaches. A fine-tuned watch: even a man coming up short of coins at a tourist stop will pay off later.

No One Knows About Persian Cats (Bhaman Ghobadi, 2009). An offbeat film for the blunt but talented Ghobadi, full of contemporary Iranian pop music. (full review 4/30)

Barking Water (Sterlin Harjo, 2009). It’s all pretty earnest, but the road-movie aspects of this Native American indie are beguiling and non-glamorized, and the whole thing has a nicely-judged rhythm. (full review 4/16)

WarGames (John Badham, 1983). I remember seeing Matthew Broderick sprint up the stairs at Red Square on the University of Washington campus one day while they were filming this thing. The rest of it looks kind of silly now.

The Eclipse (Conor McPherson, 2009). The low-key nature of this Irish literary satire/ghost story is appealing, and the turns by Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle (I always think I’m going to spell her name right without checking IMDb, but I never do), and Aidan Quinn make it watchable. (full review 4/16)