28 March 2010

Movie Review: Kick-Ass

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A

Kick-Ass
2010, 117mins, 15
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer (s): Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (novel)
Cast includes: Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lyndsy Fonseca
UK Release Date: 26th March 2010


“Kick-Ass” is a special motion picture. A frantic and joyfully compiled superhero romp, “Kick-Ass” is a blockbusting knockout from start to finish. Adapted from the comics by Mark Millar (the same man behind 2008’s overrated “Wanted”) “Kick-Ass” provides superb action, excellent performances, funny comic relief and an unapologetically adult sensibility. Having never read the source material, it’s hard to say if the film is a faithful translation, but I can confirm it’s the most fun I’ve had in a theatre for a considerable number of months. For my money it’s the best film of 2010 thus far.

David Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a typical geeky teenage boy. He spends his time reading comic books, fantasizing about the opposite sex and hanging out with his equally awkward best friends. However David dreams of becoming a superhero and despite his lack of motives or special powers he proceeds to cultivate a crime fighting alter ego called Kick-Ass. After videos of his rookie vigilantism go viral, Kick-Ass becomes a pop culture sensation and David finds his superhero persona turning into a minor celebrity. This draws the attention of local mobster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who sets his sights on killing the teenage pretender. However with the help of real superheroes Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his deadly daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), David might be able to stay alive and dish out justice in the process.

“Kick-Ass” is directed by Matthew Vaughn, the man behind 2007’s frothy fantasy adventure “Stardust”. That film was enjoyable but lacked the punch to make it truly memorable; the same cannot be said of “Kick-Ass”. Vaughn directs with a kinetic and visceral touch, pumping every scene with glossy visual polish and a deep respect for the story he’s telling. “Kick-Ass” is a gorgeous looking film but the flash never upstages the brilliant screenplay; which offers a terrific set of characters and a gripping plotline. The film is first and foremost a thrilling action picture, but it retains a focus and emotional sincerity that that allows for the audience to connect with it on a more heightened level. Adding to the film’s excellence is an underlying intelligence and desire to make comment on modern day internet celebrity.

Aaron Johnson is a marvellous and totally likable leading man. The actor possesses a raw charm and emotional depth which helps overcome the inherent silliness of the film’s premise. David’s actions seem justified on the back of Johnson’s acutely measured performance; the actor showing an aptitude for both comedy and scenes of a more serious and intimate nature. A romantic angle with love interest Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) packs an added dose of humanity onto the film’s already meaty frame. Mark Strong is a capable villain and Christopher Mintz-Plasse does commendable work as his equally dastardly son. Mintz-Plasse captures a conflicted spirit whilst also mining broader comedic moments with skill, leading to a surprisingly well crafted piece of acting from the man once known as McLovin. Nicolas Cage is dependably quirky as the vengeful Big Daddy and he forms a touching father/daughter bond with young Chloe Moretz. Hit Girl is the most inspired character in “Kick-Ass”; a pop culture icon if I’ve ever seen one. Moretz handles her bloodthirsty action sequences brilliantly, but subtly provides chinks of vulnerability in her character’s otherwise steely personality. It’s these sorts of nuanced touches that make “Kick-Ass” such a fantastic feature and probably the best superhero flick since “The Dark Knight”.

At 117 minutes “Kick-Ass” isn’t a short movie, but it uses its running time wisely. The film is a nicely balanced concoction of multiple ingredients. Teenage angst, amusing jokes, bombastic action and heartfelt relationships are all blended wonderfully together. The movie is riddled with highly quotable dialogue and an entertaining eye for profanity. “Kick-Ass” is a film for adults; it’s gory, violent and occasionally vulgar. Those expecting a standard superhero parody are going to be caught massively off guard; this is a hugely original and thoughtful property in its own right. Those who like to be intellectually challenged as they chew their popcorn will revel in the movie’s probing examination of internet fame, and its ability to define both the pros and cons associated with celebrity in the technological era.

The special effects are seamless; allowing the action to ramp up into a delightful frenzy. Vaughn showcases a healthy dose of filmmaking creativity and stacks every scene of combat or superhero heroism with oodles of adrenaline. “Kick-Ass” is one of the best action films of recent times, and through its enthusiasm and conviction the project is just as enticing as something like “Avatar”. The soundtrack is another deft and riotous touch; gifting the ears just as much pleasure as the supreme cinematography offers the eyes.

“Kick-Ass” is a masterpiece of multiplex cinema. The film combines the traditional cravings of action junkies and comedy addicts, whilst keeping an individualistic tone and identity on the grounds of its relentless ambition and ingenuity. The film has a consistent heart and soul amidst the action spectacle; meaning that the conclusion provides both a potent emotional pay off and a dose of cracking physical carnage. “Kick-Ass” is an astounding achievement and is truly a film that cinema lovers need to see.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

22 March 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Armored

2 comments


B-

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/armored.php

21 March 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

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F

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/chipmunkssqeakquel.php

DVD Verdict Review: Did You Hear About the Morgans?

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C+

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/didmorgans.php

DVD Verdict Review: My Neighbor Totoro

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B+

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/totoro2disc.php

DVD Verdict Review: Planet 51

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D

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/planet51.php

DVD verdict Review: Broken Embraces

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A-

Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/brokenembraces.php

18 March 2010

Movie Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

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B+

I Love You Phillip Morris
2009, 100mins, 15
Director (s): Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writer (s): Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast includes: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Brennan Brown
UK Release Date: 17th March 2010


There exists a swathe of film fans who would suggest that Jim Carrey has lost his edge with age. 2008’s “Yes Man” was adequate but undeniably frothy whilst kiddie aimed efforts like “Horton Hears a Who!” only further support such a theory. Don’t get me wrong, both of these films are varying degrees of good but neither has the manic bite of Carrey’s very best work. “I Love You Phillip Morris” is a bold attempt to regain some of the crazy sass that at a time made Carrey the most profitable actor on the planet, and for the most part it works. Directed and written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa “I Love You Phillip Morris” pulls few punches and delivers both a hearty dollop of credible drama and crackerjack comedy.

The film opens by informing the audience that what they’re about to see is based on a true story. Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is a policeman with a loving wife (Leslie Mann) and family but one very big secret; he’s gay. After enduring a car crash Steven comes out of the closet and seeks to build a life for himself elsewhere, but as costs run high Steven starts pulling Insurance fraud scams to match the bills. Eventually he’s caught and finds himself in Prison, leading to him meeting the reserved Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). The pair instantly forms a friendship that blossoms into love, but they find themselves separated when Steven is released from jail. In a bid to live forever with his soul mate Steven starts feigning credentials as a Lawyer and aims to get Phillip excused from finishing his sentence.

Carrey and McGregor are outstanding in “I Love You Philip Morris”. It’s the former who dominates the show but McGregor does fine work in providing the film with a consistent emotional anchor. Together they make a satisfactory screen couple and are able to generate enough heart for the finale to resonate powerfully with the audience. Carrey manages to balance his wacky tendencies with a sampling of dramatic poignancy and he carries the film easily for its modest 100 minute duration. The actor uses every bone in his body to imbue Steven with the three dimensionality of a proper human being, succeeding royally with additional comedic aplomb. The romance at the story’s centre is made viable and engaging thanks to the skill of the two lead performers, who in truth deserve considerable recognition for their contribution here.

The story is directed with a dark and razor sharp mentality, though this is made perfectly digestible thanks to a helping of emotional sincerity. Requa and Ficarra attack the material with the right amount of swagger and verve but also make sure to inject plenty of warmth and likability into their movie. “I Love You Phillip Morris” doesn’t apologize for its aggressively controversial humour but rather revels in it, all the while retaining the sweetness that the best rom-coms bring to the table. Risqué dialogue and some hilarious sex scenes mean the picture won’t be to all tastes but it’s refreshing to see a movie this committed to an edgy sensibility.

The middle section is patchier than the other two acts and possibly carries on a little longer than it ought to, but at least the filmmakers direct energetically and deploy a truly memorable musical score. “I Love You Phillip Morris” is vaguely handicapped by a sluggish centre but overcomes it with a stunningly heartbreaking and hysterical finish. The plotting is also uncharacteristically smart though given the fact the film is based on “true events” it’s hard to know just how much of the twisty narrative the writers deserve credit for.

I had a genuinely great time with “I Love You Phillip Morris” and can easily recommend it as one of the best romantic offerings of 2010 hence far. It’s a hectic and fun caper that bites deep and swallows what it chews. Carrey and McGregor are awesome and create a rare chemistry in a movie that ultimately delivers a super time at the cinema. This is definitely worth checking out.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

9 March 2010

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

2 comments

C

Fantastic Mr. Fox
2009, 87mins, PG
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer (s): Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Roald Dahl (novel)
Cast includes: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, Wally Wolodarsky, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson
UK Release Date: 23rd October 2009

Adapting the works of Roald Dahl has resulted in a mixed bag of cinematic offerings. “The Witches” and “Matilda” have been turned into terrific children’s films under the guidance of good directors; but 1996’s “James and the Giant Peach” underwhelmed and a lazy animated version of “The BFG” was worthy only of disdain. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is perhaps the least faithfully translated adaptation but that was to be expected under the directorial eyes of Wes Anderson. Anderson has undoubtedly made some important films but his reworking of Dahl’s beloved book is an indulgent and irreverent mess. There are some decent jokes and the voice casting is ace but overall “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a pretty massive disappointment.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) has grown tired of suppressing his predatory instincts; but after a chicken hunt gone wrong several years ago he has sworn to stop plundering the local farms. He now works as a columnist for a newspaper and whilst he whinges and moans about the lack of excitement in life, his family are at least safe and happy. However without his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) and son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) finding out Mr.Fox proceeds to raid three neighbouring farms run by Boggis, Bunce and Bean. He finds success initially but soon the evil farmers grow tired of his thieving ways and decide to hunt him down. As a result Mr. Fox and his family are forced into hiding along with a group of equally bizarre creatures, leaving the supposedly fantastic title character to save them from certain doom.

The voice casting in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is perfect; one only wishes it could have been applied to a better movie. Clooney is the embodiment of cocky brilliance (exactly the tone Mr. Fox demands) and Meryl Streep fits his lovable but uptight spouse. All around them actors like Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray and Wally Wolodarsky slip cutely and efficiently into supporting roles; resulting in the occasional moment of brilliance. The problem is “occasional moments of brilliance” are all “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has at its disposal; the product is far from a consistently entertaining film. There are large portions of screen time were Anderson simply overloads on madcap tomfoolery, leaving structure and narrative satisfaction behind. I love when films break conventional rules of cinema but Anderson has been doing it his whole career and now the act has gone stale. All I wanted was a well handled and respectful version of Dahl’s treasured novel, Anderson however feels the need to adapt liberally and smear his own DNA over the story to a nauseating degree.

The film starts with promise and ends on a high note but everything in the middle fails to impress. The plotting is dull and overworked; the film only lasts for 87 minutes but feels like a bloated two hour extravaganza. Granted Anderson’s off kilter sensibility leads to a few finely tuned and awesome one liners but on the whole the movie doesn’t generate enough laughter. Several scenes (one in the first third featuring Mr. Fox and Badger springs to mind) are strung out and suffocated by Anderson’s incessant need to be quirky and unique. I applaud individualistic and original filmmaking but Anderson takes his own style and applies it at a sloppy and undiluted rate; leading to a film that reeks far too strongly of the director’s unusual tendencies.

The stop motion animation is good fun but the central “family” themes are turgid and thoroughly recycled. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” half-heartedly tackles marital woes and father/son relationships with uninspired results. The audience never really connects with the characters and the endeavour lacks warm; the enterprise has a coldness that keeps it from getting close to the upper echelons of family entertainment. Ending on a silly dance only goes to further highlight the productions desperation to be seen as a light and goofy piece of cinema, something it never achieves for a variety of ill conceived reasons. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” boasts a few instances of popcorn enlightenment but ultimately descends into a broth of dogmatic preaching from a filmmaker who needs to try harder.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

7 March 2010

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

2 comments


C

Alice in Wonderland
2010, 108mins, PG
Director: Tim Burton
Writer (s): Linda Woolverton, Lewis Carroll (novel)
Cast includes: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Michael Sheen
UK Release Date: 5th March 2010

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” seems like an ideal source for director Tim Burton; a visionary who has etched out a career on a diet of gothic imagery and bizarre fantasy. Burton is one of Hollywood’s most erratic filmmakers, for every “Batman” we get a “Mars Attacks!” and every “Edward Scissorhands” seems to lead to a “Planet of the Apes”. Sadly “Alice in Wonderland” is one of the director’s less illustrious outings and ultimately descends into a mush of unhinged lunacy and excessive CGI. There is imagination backing the product but the film has absolutely no structure and it’s “sort of sequel” storyline feels weak and uninspired. Fans of both the director and Carroll’s famed fairytale are likely to be disappointed by this 2010 update.

“Alice in Wonderland” acts as a sequel of sorts to Carroll’s original tale. It picks up with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as a 19 year old on the brink of being pushed into a socially acceptable but loveless marriage and having forgone her previous escapades into Wonderland as mere dreams. After following the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) down the rabbit hole, Alice once again finds herself in the magical land and is reacquainted with The Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) and the tyrannical rule of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). All of Wonderland’s inhabitants see Alice as a champion for good and the figure that will usurp the current nefarious ruler and restore back the virtuous White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to the throne. However Alice herself feels incapable of living up to expectations and beating the Red Queen’s monstrous Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee) as legend predicts.

The 3-D in “Alice in Wonderland” is fairly mediocre and feels miles away from the lush settings of James Cameron’s “Avatar”. The Wonderland created by Burton is bright and filled with wacky shots but has no real atmosphere or personality. The one aspect I was confident the filmmaker would nail is the setting but sadly even that gets lost in a blustery wind of excessive digitals and lack of focus. The world presented here is completely forgettable and leaves no lasting impression on the audience. The same goes for many of the supporting figures; Blue Caterpillar, White Rabbit Tweedledee and Tweedledum are completely mishandled by Burton despite the valiant efforts of the actors portraying them.

Mia Wasikowska is a bland Alice and fails to really engage the audience on an emotional or personable level. This is maybe the film’s most unfortunate flaw. The character of Alice is essential to the heart and soul of the story but with Wasikowska’s monotonous performance it becomes practically impossible to care for the heroine or embrace her supposed sense of wonderment. Johnny Depp is well cast as the Mad Hatter and works relentlessly to keep the film’s tempo cranked up and I was surprised by how effective Anne Hathaway’s reserved turn as the White Queen works out to be. However neither performer gets close to the level of barmy perfection offered by Bonham Carter’s villainous Red Queen, the movie’s highlight without a doubt.

The screenplay is just as loose and undisciplined as Burton’s direction and goes through multiple pronounced periods of nothingness. Several scenes in the film have shockingly little relevance or importance within the bigger picture and the characters move in and out at a languid and lazy pace. Ultimately things reach an impressive battleground climax but the journey to that point is strikingly uneven and patchy. There are certainly moments to enjoy but the tone is confused and the plotline unmemorable. The third act is the most palatable and visually delightful segment of the movie; but it can’t repair the drab and underwhelming 80 minutes which precede it.

“Alice in Wonderland” is an obvious case of style over substance (not the first time such a criticism could be aimed at Burton), as it seeks to provide computer generated shenanigans and 3-D wizardry over competent storytelling or entertaining fantasy. Ironically the visual presentation itself is overly cluttered, leaving only a well staged finale and some good performances to bulk up the film’s credibility. It’ll be hard to keep the masses away from such a heavily marketed event picture but sadly “Alice in Wonderland” isn’t worth your time.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010