Month: August 2010

V is for Vigilante: Review for Kick-Ass

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Some people in the film industry say that the superhero movie is getting stale and old. That seems really odd to me considering that there are…about five or so new films lined up, including Thor, Captain America, The Green Lantern, and The Green Hornet, not including the planned sequels to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Jon Faverau’s Iron Man 2. Nevertheless, some are determined to say that the formula is getting tiresome, which again, is a little odd, because superhero movies are kind of a genre in themselves that have lasted for years and years. Yes, the formula tired, but then we get a reboot of something and we get to experience it “anew”, like the reconceived Batman Christopher Nolan brought us in his fantastic origin story Batman Begins and its look at darkness in The Dark Knight. Well, whatever they say, they’re trying to change the game again with a film called Kick-Ass.

Based on the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr, Kick-Ass tells the story of a nerdy kid who wants to become a superhero. Haven’t we all had that daydream? The little boy who jumps on a trampoline wearing a cape? The little girl who deflects fake bullets with the plastic bracelet she wears around her wrist. The little boy who pretends he’s James bond, Indiana Jones, etc. Only, this boy, played by Aaron Johnson (Nowhere Boy) is in high school. And he is seriously thinking about this idea. He’s not very admirable, not even at the beginning of the movie. Just really whiny.

He buys his spandex, slaps it on and his first venture into crime fighting gets him…sent to the hospital. And the, on the other side of things are two particularly nasty people, who become the vigilante crime fighters known as Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). They train for real. Big Daddy has a big vendetta against a man who sent him to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, which left his girl living with a cop. Back and ready in action, they’re ready to cause complete destruction.

Okay, I get the film. It’s lampooning the idea of hype and personal celebrity. Kind of. For every self-made TV reality star and YouTube sensation, there’s someone who worked harder for it. Think of it as the Kardashions vs. the Hiltons. While neither of them are particularly role models, at least one family did make it on top with work put in. And for an outrageously mainstream film like this, that idea of actually having an idea beyond “let’s kick ass!” sounds pretentious and snooty when it does not deserve the right to be snooty. One thinks, “Hmph, that opinion is reserved for art house, independent, and Christopher Nolan films; not silly superhero movies!” But the film’s characters are unlikable, and unlikability leaves the audience feeling cold and emotionally uninvested. Aaron Johnson is whiny throughout the entire film, and it’s worse that it’s an overhead-narrative film. We hear his nasally whine throughout the entire thing. It is, at points, completely unbearable. And it’s not very funny. Isn’t this supposed to be a comedy too? It’s just not…funny. Nor is it particularly amusing, or laugh inducing. Thus, we have a few problem…and a few more to boot.

The film’s violence is a little shocking at times, far more graphic than the Korean masterpieces Oldboy and Lady Vengeance. And at least with those films, it wasn’t served up on a platter as entertainment. It was to show pain, not to get a laugh. And in this way, the film is completely morally dubious. Oh yay, a little girl who can indeed slice your throat and shoot you in the mouth! Spewing profanity like a bizarre hose, Grace Moretz certainly does whatever her character calls for, regardless of whether or not it’s actually watchable.

The choreography is…interesting. Exciting, I suppose, but not nearly dipped in the black humor that films like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, or Shanghai Noon had it. But there’s another problem…we can barely see it. The camera work and cinematography is so frantic and manic that you can barely see anything most of the time, only seeing glimpses of blood here, a severed arm there, and twirling or gun shots. Often, this technique is prone to make the audience queasy. But it comes off more sloppy than pretentious.

Morally dubious and ultimately unfulfilling, this film wasn’t even that enjoyable on a surface, “I don’t care about real movie criticism” level. Its violence is sometimes nauseating, its plot pretentious and unwatchable, and its camerawork annoying and manic; the film is probably one of the worst I have seen this year. The pseudo-superhero is met with the pseudo-good idea. If you’re going to watch a movie with deep levels of intellect and surface level enjoyment, try Sin City or The Dark Knight. Skip this super zero.

Grade D

Summer Reviews

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Lately, I’ve been doing school work and rushing, so I haven’t been able to write as many reviews as I would have liked to. SO, here are the capsule reviews for the films I’ve seen over the last month or so.

The Other Guys

A collaboration between Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who brought you Talladega Nights, The Other Guys is an amusing buddy cop flick that doesn’t have a concrete point until the very end. Mark Wahlberg plays the bad, annoyed, peacock of a cop and Will Ferrell plays more of a schumcky cop who isn’t really a cop, but a desk worker. The two work well with one another. The comedy, for the most part, is rather brusque, but sometimes drops and becomes rather lame and pointless. The jokes become completely irrelevant to the rest of the film, which can be a nuisance. However, the film is enjoyable and funny. Stay for the credits; it’s the best part of the film.

Grade: B-

(500) Days of Summer

This quirky romantic comedy was, at first in my opinion, dull, depressing, and annoying. But, once it settles in your mind, it can really be appreciated for showing the little seen nuances in a real, adult relationship. Mature and well written, it takes its time showing the nonlinear storyline about a boy and a girl who meet, but, as the narrator says, it is not a love story. Summer is played eloquently by Zooey Deschanel and her boyfriend, from whose perspective we view the entire film from, is Tom, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The two are great…on their own. But for some reason, they lack enough chemistry to really carry the film. Nevertheless, the amount of storytelling is fantastic and the visual style is very inventive. That is, if you can bear to sit that long.

Grade: B-

State of Play

Russell Crow plays a reporter trying to uncover a government conspiracy when a congressman’s (Ben Affleck) mistress is found dead. This intricate film is spindly and serpentine. The performances are all fantastic, particularly that of Helen Mirren and Crow. Rachel McAdams is fine, but her character is kind of whiny and overtly amateur throughout the entire film. Nevertheless, the film, based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, is crafted so well and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Grade: A-

An Education

Aside from the Jewish stereotypes that plague the film, An Education is a well-acted if feebly written film loosely based on Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name. An older man named David (Peter Scaargard) seduces and Oxford bound young woman named Jenny (Oscar nominated Carey Mulligan). She goes off her track to higher education and is completely enveloped in the world of posh nightclubs and art. It’s like a significantly lesser version of Anna Karenina. However, Mulligan’s performance was completely Oscar worthy, even if the film was not.

Grade: B-

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

If you went through a horrible break up, would you go as far as to completely erase the person from your memory? That’s the question asked here in this brilliantly created drama written by Charlie Kaufman and starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Carrey plays a straight laced guy named Joel who falls in love with a completely, almost polar opposite kook named Clementine (Winslet). After a year of ups and downs, she finally has him erased from her memory, using a company whose primary business is erasing people from people’s memories. Upset and shocked, Joel decides to have the same procedure done to him. As we go through his memories, something spectacular happens: we get to feel exactly how Joel feels. We feel his pain, his happiness, we feel everything. So fantastically written and acted, this film has been added to my list of favorite films of all time.

Grade: A+

My Asian Horror Binge

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I decided I would watch the four most extreme fof the Asia Extreme films: the Vengeance trilogy, by Park Chan-wook featuring the films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance and Takashi Miike’s infamous horror film Audition. I recorded my thoughts as I watched the films.

Day 1

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance


I start the first film from Netflix on my Wii. This should be quite interesting. Let’s begin with Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.


Paused it for several minutes to goof off on Facebook. Now I’m watching a green haired Asian guy pee and swing stuff with a baseball bat. This is not going well.


I feel like it’s lulling me into a false sense of security and then it will just band on my senses until I vomit or something. Right now, Mr. Vengeance is dull.


The green haired guy just sold his kidney. And, like the old legend goes, woke up in the middle of nowhere with his kidney gone and a hole in his side. Well done, I must confess. The score is titillating and suspenseful all on its own. I can tell it’s going to get worse, because my stomach is beginning to hurt. The idea of trying to find a donor and save your sister is going to be very powerful indeed.


And the plan formulates: kidnap a little girl and get the money to pay for the organ transplant.


I may have gotten distracted, but I have no idea how they got the kid. I saw the buildup, but now where they actually get the kid.


For a while, it’s going well. But then it all goes wrong. How typical.


Well, Ryu’s plan went to hell. His sister, for whom he was trying to save the money, committed suicide and the girl he kidnapped accidentally drowned. I can’t imagine how much worse it’s going to get. Although, it hasn’t been that bad thus far.


I am feeling quite sympathetic for Mr. Vengeance, nee Park Dong-jin, the president of an electronics company and father of the daughter who drowned. He has fired Ryu earlier in the film. How is it that parents who lose children don’t have mental breakdowns more often?


I really don’t think people watch their loved ones are cremated. Natural cause or otherwise, I think it would be too much. So is that really realistic?


Now it’s getting violent. Also, fat Asian people are stupid.


Is this film morally repugnant? Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is violent and, sometimes enthralling. But, it’s also slow, obtuse, and a little boring. Though, the film is tamer than I thought it would be. I suppose the worst has yet to come with OldboyLady Vengeance, and Takashi Miike’sAudition. Though I still have 20 minutes of this film left.


And so ends Mr. Vengeance. Unsatisfying, unlike films such as Taken. Lacked emotional resonance and was just about the somewhat shocking violence. It was good, but not great by any means. Very disappointed.



Now beginning the second film in the Vengeance trilogy, Oldboy. I heard it’s much more shocking than the previous film.


Horrified by the English dubbing. I suppose I don’t have to pay as astute attention because there are no subtitles. But it sounds kind of silly. Not as bad as some dubbing, but not great by any means.


Drunken and belligerent, we start our story with Mr. Dai-su being drunken and belligerent and then disappearing, He’s been locked up for no reason. According to the synopsis, he is released after his 15 year “sentence” to find his captor and why.


I like it more already. It’s more visually interesting and seemingly more theoretical and symbolic.


I suppose what’s interesting is, again, the idea of  claustrophobia and the madness that sinks in when you deal with being locked up for years and years and years and years… Also, visually interesting is the change that takes place on TV.


Also, I like the score better. And the film is, so far, visually vibrant.


He’s eating a squid… a live squid.


Okay, the teeth part is really quite horrible. But I really want some dumplings now. What follows is an awesome fight scene.


Much more interesting film, visually and plot wise.


Again with the teeth?


Such a critical scene, as the entire film and its secrets unfold before our eyes. Well written and wonderfully suspenseful.


A bit of an interesting end, and very open to interpretation, as the director intended it.


I really liked Oldboy. It was stylish and emotional and, even though it was brutal to watch, it was a really great movie. I’m surprised. What Mr. Vengeance lacked in emotional resonance Oldboy had in spades.

Day 2

Lady Vengeance


It’s day two of my horror binge, slightly put off by isolating myself in my room after being grounded.

The main title sequence is stylish and elegant, featuring gorgeous flowering as they move across a woman’s arm. But what does it all mean? Added with the blood and seeming pastry making, is she creating and cooking revenge? Is her path to revenge simmering in her mind until it’s finally “done”? Great music as well.


Yay! Asian ladies dressed up like Santa and singing seemingly Christian carols! Not sure where this is. But the singing is really nice.


Our first glimpse of Lady Vengeance, who has aged from a beautiful head turning young woman to a slightly stale and vengeful adult. She had been sent to jail for a murder she did not commit, and the singers have been stationed out for congratulatory reasons. Lots of religious imagery.


Fantastic selection of baroque music.


Very religious, Geum-ja seems like she’s angelic.


Finally, we see a back story of the plan, stylishly shown on screen. Nice gun.


A dog with a human’s head, shot in the skull. How symbolic.


First scene of graphic violence; a finger chopping.


Great style and cinematography. Park Chan-wook is a master.


Fantastic back stories and revelation of the ornately designed weapon.


Similar to “paparazzi” and Chicago, Geum-ja reenacts the murder for the press.


She finds her daughter, Jenny, living in Australia and her daughter is sort of odd.


Who is the narrator? Another nice touch is the time spent in prison shown for each character.


We finally find the man, Mr. Baek, who is responsible for the murder of the boy.


The film was quite awesome. Emotionally sound, it felt like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, especially how they “tried” Mr. Baek for his crimes. It was stylishly done and well-acted. It was an absolutely fantastic film. It was so well done and so visually spectacular. I really want to see the alternate version “Fade to White”, which is supposed to start out in vibrant color and, scene by scene, adjust the palette so by the end of the film, it’s completely black and white.

Day 3



Well, I’m here. I’ve made it to the final film, and I saved the worst for last. Japanese director Takashi Miike is a bit infamous for being astoundingly graphic and yet classy, using admirable and entrancing film making techniques. His film Audition is said to be his most…horrifying. One critic said “It makesPsycho seem quaint”. Well, that isn’t a very good sign. Regardless, I am finally here. Wish me luck. I had been putting this viewing off for a long while. Now, I’m with my friend watching it, so at least I’m not the only one who has to suffer. Ryoko, a high CEO’s wife, has just died and her sun is holding a pinwheel. And now I prep myself, for the worst has yet to come.


Fishing…maybe as a grieving or coping mechanism? Eerie music. Cinematography is very unimpressive. It’s actually really boring.


Actually, it seems some time has passed. About 12 years. We see the son has grown up.


Talk of remarriage after his wife’s death, and 12 years of being a widower, begin to come up.


Bar music in Japan? Oh, how quaint. The idea to audition girls for a fake TV movie so that this guy can meet women is discussed.


It turns out our main character is the executive producer of a TV station.


And so the eminent montage of girls for the audition comes. And it’s sort of amusing. Not funny, per se, but amusing.


He has his eye on one girl, who has done ballet. She’s really creepy. One good shot in the film is only of a white chair…but then again, it was much better in The Ring.


And here comes the subject of the film, or complete psychopath, dressed primly in white and looking very demure.


His friend, with whom he collaborated on when creating this fake audition, is beginning to feel suspicious about this character.


It seems that Takashi Miike likes to make his films obnoxiously enigmatic. His film “Box” in the anthology Three… Extremes was equally puzzling, but had a much better storyline and better cinematography.


Do we have a layered character somewhere in the film? No? Gosh, I thought not.


The man is in love with the woman, so he takes her out on a little vacation. She shows him her scars. They consummate their relationship, even though it’s not shown on screen (which is a nice change).


And here comes the crazy! The woman is being revealed as a complete nut, as she forces a man to eat her own vomit, cuts off a man’s head with piano wire, perform acupuncture on a man in all the wrong places, and puts needles in his eyes. It gets kinda graphic, but I suppose it’s better than the rest of the film, which was slow and really boring.


One thing interesting about Miike is how often he bends the line between reality and fantasy. In this film, it’s just as difficult to distinguish the two.




Never mind…this was just a bad movie. We were too distanced from the characters, so there was no emotional investment. The violence was uncalled for. And it was slow and boring and the cinematography was terrible. I am supremely disappointed.

Conclusion: The Vengeance Trilogy is some of the best films I’ve seen in my life, particularly withOldboy and Lady Vengeance. Both films were visually exciting and had emotional resonance and great editing. The former was fast paced and exciting and mysterious, and then became a really great love story. The latter had a wonderful score and let the plot and its characters unfold slowly, but at a good pace, like Kurusawa’s Seven Samurai. However, the first film in the set, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, lacked all of these qualities. It wasn’t too violent, and what violence there was had not been rationalized by any emotion within the film. It was also boring and had lousy cinematography.

Audition is one of the most infamous films ever made, but not really for a good reason. Lacking any good visual panache, the film just trudged along like a glacier. The violence was tough to deal with, but, like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, it was rationalized enough by a motive or pathos. The most controversy film of the four turned out to be the worst.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience. I got exposure to a new type of film, the Asian Extreme genre. I thought it was interesting how the cultures dealt with revenge and consumption and consequences. Though Park Chan-wook did it infinitely better than Takashi Miike. I want to own the Vengeance trilogy now. IT was a great time.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance: C

Oldboy: A

Lady Vengeance: A-

Audition: C-