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 4/5/2010

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (Werner Herzog, 2009). Herzog and David Lynch, working together as director and producer. Can the nuttiness be long in coming? When Michael Shannon shares a scene with Udo Kier and Brad Dourif, it’s like he’s been officially welcomed into a brotherhood of character-actor weirdness. (full review 4/9)

Formosa Betrayed (Adam Kane, 2009). Odd, sincere little item that tries to work up some thriller excitement as it educates you about the history of the Taiwanese independence movement – and, sure enough, it will probably educate people on the subject. It’s no City of Sadness. (full review 4/9)

Warlords (Peter Ho-Sun Chan, 2007). Lots of history here, too, of a familiar kind. Some star power: Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Andy Lau. I could keep everything reasonably straight for the first 90 minutes or so, which is saying something. (full review 4/16)

The Joneses (Derrick Borte, 2009). This thing has a nice wicked rollout in the first two or three reels, especially if you don’t know what the subject of the movie is, which I didn’t. Kind of hard to sustain after that unless you’re Kubrick, but David Duchovny is good in it. (full review 4/16)