Tag Archives: Zoe Saldana

‘Kick-Ass’ kicks it; ‘Funeral’ is DOA

Film reviews

Wanting to get away from it all, I decided to see a couple of mindless movies — “Kick-Ass” and “Death at a Funeral” — this past week. Here’s how it turned out:

‘Kick-Ass’: ‘Batman’ meets ‘Kill Bill’

Chloe Grace Moretz, Mark Strong

Chloe Grace Moretz portrays Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass.” Here she is about to hit the film’s big villain.

“Kick-Ass” is violent, the critics warned.

No problem. I’ve seen the “Kill Bill” duo several times.

“Kick-Ass” has a little of this, a little of that — “Batman,” “Watchmen,” “Spider-Man,” “Kill Bill,” etc.

And that’s OK. “Kick-Ass” works.

In “Kick-Ass,” the adorable Aaron Johnson (my Internet research shows that he was born in 1990, so I suppose that I’m not a pedophile after all…) plays a comic-book fanboy who decides to try the super-hero thing out for himself. He invents Kick-Ass, a very amateur, green (literally and figuratively), ninja-like “super-hero.”

He soon is joined by the father-and-daughter team of Big Daddy and Hit Girl, played by Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz.

Most lethal of everyone in “Kick-Ass” is Hit Girl, which isn’t very believable but which is entertaining nonetheless. The violence that the purple-wigged Hit Girl visits upon her victims is so over the top that you can’t take it seriously. She’s like a little Beatrix Kiddo of “Kill Bill.”

The scene in which Hit Girl’s father teaches her how to endure bullets alone makes “Kick-Ass” worth watching, but the subplot in which Kick-Ass (who, like Spider-Man was, still is in high school) gets the girl he wants only because she thinks he’s gay (and that he thus is “safe”) also works.

Hit Girl and Big Daddy are way out of Kick-Ass’ league — after all, Big Daddy has had the resources and he and Hit Girl have had the time to polish their act, whereas Kick-Ass has had neither — but “Kick-Ass” still more or less works, even with the mismatched super-heroes (unlike “Watchmen,” which, with its grossly mismatched super-heroes, is a mess).

The “super-hero” of Red Mist, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, isn’t really a super-hero at all, but is a gangly, awkward rich boy playing super-hero. However, “Kick-Ass” ends on a note that indicates that there will be a sequel in which Red Mist plays a larger role — and perhaps actually becomes more of the super-hero that he wants to be.

“Kick-Ass” is pretty good for mostly mindless entertainment. Roger Ebert hated it — he gave it only one star, acknowledging the good performances by Johnson, Moretz and Cage but lambasting the movie’s use of such a lethal 11-year-old girl (who at one point in the film takes a pummeling herself by an adult male) — and while I usually agree with Ebert, I have to disagree with him on this one.

“Will I seem hopelessly square if I find ‘Kick-Ass’ morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point?” Ebert asks in his review. The answer is that yes, Ebert is square, at least on this one, and that the creators of “Kick-Ass” fairly apparently don’t believe that the over-the-top character of Hit Girl should be taken any more seriously than should the over-the-top character of Beatrix Kiddo in “Kill Bill.”

Yes, “Kick-Ass” is violent. That’s why it’s rated R. And that’s why it is titled “Kick-Ass.” You are warned.

I can agree with Ebert on one of his criticisms of “Kick-Ass”; Ebert notes that apparently in the world of “Kick-Ass,” “you don’t need to be great at hand-to-hand combat if you can just shoot people dead.”

True, there is too much shooting by Big Daddy and Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass,” and shooting is rather unimaginative and just too easy, which is why the vast majority of super-heroes don’t go around shooting people, but at the most use blades, if they use any actual weapons at all. But given Big Daddy’s background as a former cop, it at least doesn’t violate the logic of the storyline, and it doesn’t ruin film.

If you liked “Kill Bill,” you’ll probably like “Kick-Ass.”

My grade: B+

‘Death at a Funeral’ is dead on arrival

In this film publicity image released by Screen ...

Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock and a gagged dwarf (Peter Dinklage) — so it must be funny, right? Wrong…

I had high hopes for “Death at a Funeral.” Roger Ebert liked it, giving it three and a half stars out of four. Good comedies are as rare as are good horror films, it seems to me, so when a comedy gets Ebert’s thumbs up to the degree that “Death at a Funeral” has, there’s a good chance that I’ll catch it.

I didn’t see the original “Death at a Funeral,” which came out only three years ago and was directed by Frank Oz, so I can’t compare it to this year’s “Death at a Funeral,” which was directed by the normally good Neil LaBute (whose “In the Company of Men,” “Nurse Betty” and “The Shape of Things” I liked) but is stillborn due to its (um, literally) shitty script.

The best director and the best actors can’t do much with material that isn’t that funny in the first place.

Not only are the “comic” set-ups in “Death at a Funeral” not that funny, but they’re used relentlessly repeatedly throughout the film.

The idea that the dead family patriarch had a down-low same-sex sexual affair with a blackmailing dwarf is beaten into the ground, even though Peter Dinklage, who plays the down-low dwarf, has been good in other films.

James Marsden, whom I know mostly as the character of Cyclops from the “X-Men” movies, probably should stick with drama. I certainly don’t mind seeing him mostly nude, as we do in “Death in a Funeral” (although I also hate him for having no apparent body fat whatsoever), but the shtick over his inadvertently having taken a hullucinogen instead of Valium grows tiresome quickly — yet it persists throughout the movie.

Loretta Devine as the matriarch and widow does the best that she can with the script that she was handed, but her character’s constantly hounding the character of her daughter-in-law about wanting to be a grandmother is trite and isn’t any funnier the 10th time than it is the first or second or third or…

Danny Glover is utterly wasted in “Death at a Funeral” as the wheelchair-bound codger Uncle Russell, who only hurls profanities and hits people with his cane. Har har!

Zoe Saldana (who played the blue-skinned, cat-nosed heroine of “Avatar”), as the wife of Chris Rock’s character, also is among the cavalcade of tragically wasted talent in “Death at a Funeral.”

The likeable and talented Rock also does the best that he can with the script that he was handed, as do Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan, but I had to ask myself several times throughout the movie why these stars agreed to appear in the movie, assuming that all of them had read the script.

A corpse falling out of its casket and Uncle Russell shitting all over another character’s hand while on the commode, and this shit-upon character having shit (diarrhea, to be exact) prominently visible on his shirt for the rest of the film — well, those things just don’t make me ROLF.

If I thought that those kinds of things were funny, I’d watch television, and that’s what “Death at a Funeral” feels like: a 30-minute sitcom episode — a mediocre one, at that — spread out over an hour an a half.

To be fair, I heard plenty of people in the audience laughing. But then again, most people love to watch TV… (I know that I’m a minority on that one.) I always hope that when people laugh at an unfunny movie, they’re just laughing because they paid to laugh, and God damn it, they’re going to laugh! But I have the sinking feeling that their laughter during “Death at a Funeral” was genuine, which seems to me yet another sign of the imminent collapse of the American empire.

I’m not alone in disliking “Death at a Funeral.” Yahoo! Movies has a critics’ roundup of the film in which Ebert is the only one of 10 critics who gives it an “A” (well, an “A-“). Only three of the 10 critics in the roundup give it a “B”, four give it a “C”, and two give it a “D” — with the average of the 10 critics’ ratings being a “C+”.

Ebert, who always has been one of my favorite film critics, if not my favorite film critic, seems to be losing it. He actually writes in his review of “Death at a Funeral”:

Consider the scene when Uncle Russell eats too much nut cake and is seized by diarrhea. And Norman [the character played by Tracy Morgan] wrestles him off his wheelchair and onto the potty, and gets his hand stuck underneath. Reader, I laughed. I’m not saying I’m proud of myself. That’s not the way I was raised. But I laughed.

Um, it wasn’t funny… Shitting, like farting, almost never is funny in a movie.

And while Ebert was aghast at the 11-year-old Hit Girl being pummeled by an adult male (whose pummeling of her is meant to demonstrate how evil he is and whose pummeling of her is in reaction to her own slaughter of several of his men), Ebert apparently found the treatment of the gay dwarf in “Death at a Funeral” to be hilarious (“They’re only human,” he says of the dwarf’s binders who try to conceal his accidental death. Um, but is the dwarf?)

I don’t know about Ebert as of late — Alzheimer’s?

Not only is Ebert out of synch with his cohorts in regards to “Death at a Funeral,” but in Yahoo! Movie’s critics’ roundup for “Kick-Ass,” Ebert is the only one of the 12 critics to give it a “D”. Only two of the 12 give it a “C”, five give it a “B”, and four give it an “A”, for an average of a “B”.

It might be time for Ebert to be put out to pasture.

And let’s make sure that, when he finally goes to that Big Movie Theater in the Sky, his body doesn’t fall out of the casket, or that we find out that he had a dwarf on the down low on the side all along.

Because that shit just isn’t funny.

My grade: D+

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In James Cameron’s magnum opus ‘Avatar,’ the Bad Guys R Us

Film review

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, Jake ...

Above: Jake Sully (played by the rather yummy Sam Worthington) inspects his brand-new “avatar” in the James Cameron epic (that’s redundant, isn’t it?) “Avatar.” Below: Jake, in his avatar, bonds with native Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana.

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, the ...

James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which I finally saw yesterday (I was waiting for the crowds to die down), is pissing off everyone, right and left. Cameron must have done something right.

Being such a political creature, if a film has the least bit possible sociopolitical bent to it, I’m going to notice it right off. In “Avatar,” such a bent abounds.

Most notably, in “Avatar,” we — the United States of America — are the bad guys. Well, not we, not really. “We” as in the military-industrial complex that has come to represent the United States of America around the world is the bad guy in “Avatar.”

I have read that, unsurprisingly, the wingnuts are not happy about this, especially given the film’s wild commercial success. (Fuck ’em.)

The villains of “Avatar” are an over-the-top corporate hack and an over-the-top colonel who work in tandem — not unlike how the Catholic church’s missionaries and the Spanish crown’s soldiers worked in tandem to conquer the “new world” — to conquer the lush planet of Pandora, which has an element (called “unobtainium,” ha ha ha) that the invading Earthlings want. (The Spanish monarchy wanted gold, of course, and the Catholic church wanted converts. We’re never told in “Avatar” what practical application, if any, “unobtainium” has, so my guess is that, like with gold, “unobtainium’s” main value is that it is, um, valuable…)

To conquer the tall, blue, feline-faced, tail-possessing people of Pandora — the Na’vi — the Earthlings (whom the Na’vi call the “sky people”) decide to infiltrate them with “avatars,” biologically fabricated Na’vi bodies that are inhabited by the consciousness of human beings controlling the biologically fabricated Na’vi bodies.

Now, the Na’vi natives are a bit too accepting of these “avatars,” whom the natives know aren’t fellow natives. If you weren’t born into and raised by the tribe, why would the tribe just accept you at all as one of them? I mean, if it were clear to us human beings that some alien race were coming to us in human bodies, would we embrace these aliens in human bodies as one of us? Prolly not.

But it would ruin “Avatar” if the avatars didn’t get some degree of acceptance from the Na’vi, and so they do.

Anyway, in “Avatar” the invading Earthlings clearly are the bad guys, and while watching what’s probably the biggest, loudest scene in “Avatar,” the Earthlings’ military forces destroying a site that is very sacred to the Na’vi, I couldn’t help but think of the internationally televised so-called “shock and awe” that many if not most of my fellow Americans got off on when the unelected Bush regime (yeah, the same regime that my fellow Americans just allowed to steal the White House in late 2000) illegally, immorally, unprovokedly and unjustly invaded Iraq, which had had nothing to do with 9/11 and which of course never possessed the weapons of mass destruction that the members of the Bush regime had lied through their fangs about, in March 2003.  

Yeah, it takes a big, tough, studly nation to attack a relatively defenseless one.

In the middle of all of this, the conflict between the rapacious Earthlings, who are represented by a very American-like military-industrial complex, and the Native-American-like Na’vi (they even wear warpaint and let out war cries), is Marine Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington, who appears to be in just about every movie these days, which is OK with me, since he has a definite certain sexiness about him), who unexpectedly finds himself recruited to man an avatar. (Of course, he has to make a deal with the devil: for infiltrating the Na’vi and helping to subdue them, the wheelchair-bound Jake is promised that his paraplegia will be cured.)

As you already know from the previews, after he’s been manning his avatar, Jake changes his allegiance from the military-industrial complex to the Na’vi.

You probably already suspect that Jake ends up being the big hero of the film, and that of course he and his female Na’vi companion, Neytiri (wonderfully played by Zoe Saldana), go from their initially tense relationship (which showcases some great dialogue) to becoming lifemates.

That the white Marine, instead of one of the Na’vi natives, becomes the big hero of “Avatar” has pissed some people off, I read in today’s news. Reports The Associated Press:

Near the end of the hit film “Avatar,” the villain snarls at the hero, “How does it feel to betray your own race?” Both men are white — although the hero is inhabiting a blue-skinned, 9-foot-tall, long-tailed alien.

Strange as it may seem for a film that pits greedy, immoral humans against noble denizens of a faraway moon, “Avatar” is being criticized by a small but vocal group of people who allege it contains racist themes — the white hero once again saving the primitive natives.

Since the film opened to widespread critical acclaim three weeks ago, hundreds of blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets and YouTube videos have said things such as the film is “a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people” and that it reinforces “the white Messiah fable.”

The film’s writer and director, James Cameron, says the real theme is about respecting others’ differences….

Adding to the racial dynamic [of “Avatar”] is that the main Na’vi characters are played by actors of color, led by a Dominican, Zoe Saldana, as the princess. The film also is an obvious metaphor for how European settlers in America wiped out the Indians.

Robinne Lee, an actress in such recent films as “Seven Pounds” and “Hotel for Dogs,” said that “Avatar” was “beautiful” and that she understood the economic logic of casting a white lead if most of the audience is white.

But she said the film, which so far has the second-highest worldwide box-office gross ever, still reminded her of Hollywood’s “Pocahontas” story — “the Indian woman leads the white man into the wilderness, and he learns the way of the people and becomes the savior.”

“It’s really upsetting in many ways,” said Lee, who is black with Jamaican and Chinese ancestry. “It would be nice if we could save ourselves.” …

Yes, come to think of it, “Avatar” is basically a futuristic “Pocahontas” in which Jake Sully would be John Smith and Neytiri would be Pocahontas.

And it did occur to me while I was watching “Avatar” that it seemed off that a a white guy who wasn’t even one of the Na’vi would end up as their savior.

I understand why historically oppressed peoples wouldn’t be pleased to see a white guy emerge as the hero, but I think that “Avatar’s” surprisingly subversive message succeeds as it does because it’s the white guy who realizes that what the military-industrial complex that he has been a member of has been doing is wrong, and so he decides to fight for the other side.

And it’s not just the character of Jake whose allegiance changes; there’s the character of a great Latina fighter pilot (played by Michelle Rodriguez, of whom I’d like to have seen more of in “Avatar”) and a few others whose allegiance changes, and this kind of pop-culture image in which the “turncoats” are the heroes can’t be good for the U.S. military-industrial complex, which expects its soldiers to be blindly obedient cannon fodder who die for rich white men’s fortunes while believing that they are fighting for such noble causes as “freedom” and “democracy” and “God” and “Jesus” and puppies and kittens, for fuck’s sake.

I mean, fuck. Before “Avatar” began, I had to watch an endless fucking recruitment advertisement for the National Fucking Guard. (The recruitment ad didn’t show any maimed or dead soldiers, of course, but looked like something out of “Top Gun,” as usual.) The U.S. military-industrial complex has millions if not billions of dollars — our tax dollars — at its disposal to brainwash our young people into believing that the U.S. military really is about defense and patriotism instead of about what it really is about: war profiteering, feeding the endless greed of the military-industrial complex and the greedy fucking white men who run it and who personally profit from it.

Trust me, oppressed peoples of the world, “Avatar” does much more for your cause by having its hero a white guy — a Marine, for fuck’s sake — who realizes that he’s been fighting on the wrong side and then switches sides, than it would have done for your cause had its hero been one of the Na’vi natives.

The millions of young American males (and females) who see “Avatar” might think twice before joining the U.S. military, and that’s a good thing for a planet that probably cannot survive a World War III.

Indeed, Cameron’s intent, I believe, was to send a message of peace, and it’s whitey, with his (and her) beloved military-industrial complex, who needs to get that message more than does anyone else. Those long oppressed by whitey already know the value of peace.

The Associated Press reports that Cameron wrote the AP in an e-mail that “Avatar” “asks us to open our eyes and truly see others, respecting them even though they are different, in the hope that we may find a way to prevent conflict and live more harmoniously on this world. I hardly think that is a racist message.”

Agreed.

The AP also reports of “Avatar”:

“Can’t people just enjoy movies anymore?” a person named Michelle posted on the website for Essence, the magazine for black women, which had 371 comments on a story debating the issue [of whether “Avatar” is racist].

OK, that’s a valid question.

Although it’s a rhetorical question, the answer to the question, for me, anyway, is no, I can’t just enjoy a movie anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed “Avatar.” It is a visually stunning film, and I love its profuse use of greens and blues and purples, which, actually, reminded me a lot of “The Princess and the Frog,” which, come to think of it, is a bit like “Avatar”: Both films have heroines with African blood in them (Zoe Saldana apparently has African blood in her) who meet up with bumbling men whom the heroines have to turn into heroes, and both films largely take place in green, blue and purple, swampy, lush settings.

“Avatar” succeeds on the sensory level (as it should, given the millions and millions of dollars that were put into it ) — although the ubiquitous DayGlo stuff does get a little bit tiresome after a while and although Pandora’s plethora of creatures, including its Na’vi, look way too much like Earth’s creatures, including its human beings — but sue me if I am able to enjoy a movie on more than one level.

I can multi-task; I can take in all of the technical achievements of a film like “Avatar” while seeing its obvious sociopolitical statements, statements that I can’t be accused of having pulled out of my moonbatty ass because James Cameron himself says are his intended statements.

It’s a rare film that can entertain and that can stimulate public debate on important sociopolitical issues, so kudos to Cameron for having achieved that with “Avatar.”

“Avatar” is such a cultural achievement that I have to wonder if from now on people are going to go around saying to each other, in all seriousness: “I see you.” (Even though it’s a bit cheesy, I kind of hope so…)

Yes, “Avatar” is a bit derivative of other films, not just of “Pocahontas” but also of Cameron’s past films — we even get the “Alien” series’ Sigourney Weaver as a protagonist in “Avatar” (I have to say that I found Weaver’s avatar to be a bit creepy-looking, to look a bit too much like Weaver), we get the manned robots that we saw in “Aliens,” and we even get “The Company” in “Avatar” (is the amoral, profit-piggy, generic “The Company” in “Avatar” the same one that was in the “Alien” series, I wonder?).

But “Avatar” succeeds on its own and probably will be Cameron’s magnum opus. 

My grade: A

P.S. I read a news account that President Barack Obama took his girls to see “Avatar” recently. Mr. President, I sure the fuck hope that you learned something, and that having your girls there with you drove the point home.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized