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 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
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+