Movie of the Day : THE GREAT ST. LOUIS BANK ROBBERY

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Starring Steve McQueen, (the famous actor not the famous director) in one of his earliest roles, THE GREAT ST. LOUIS BANK ROBBERY is a docu-pic/heist film, very much in the vein of other true crime films such as KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, that were all the rage in the late 50s. What differentiates this film from crime classics as KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is how ugly, and unkempt and unglamorous and unromanticized and in places mundane it is. It’s not a great film by any means, following as it does petty damaged lives in search of quixotic windmills, but this very seeming plodding approach, leads to moments of surprising and unexpected veracity and brutality.

It’s unsentimental nature, by the end becomes its strength, powering it, along with flashes of directorial style, to a memorable ending. So definitely worth a viewing. Grade: C+.

View it for free on your Roku device by signing up for Nowhere Archive here.

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THEATER REVIEW: CSC’s Movable Shakespeare’s RICHARD III

โ€œNo beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore am no beast.โ€
โ€• William Shakespeare, Richard III

There is no shortage of villains in the oeuvre of the writer known as William Shakespeare. From the machinations of Hamlet’s Uncle-cum-Father who puts Hamlet ‘too much in the Sun’, to the deviousness of Othello’s ‘trusted’ Iago, to the bloody, eye-plucking Cornwall in King Lear, but none are so ever quotable, and perhaps as eminently watchable as Richard III, who is of such expanse in his villainy that he is the star of his own self-titled play, rather than just a player in another character’s tale.

And this comes to life in florid detail in the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s unique production of RICHARD III. Directed by Ian Gallanar, one of the CSC’s founders, RICHARD III is presented in a ‘movable’ style that puts the audience, truly in the heart of the action and makes them mute(and not so mute) chorus to this tale of treachery and tragedy.

Taking place in the ‘haunted’ ruins at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City, Maryland, beneath the stars and the eyes of God, it is truly a presentation to remember. Particularly on a good, clear fall night (which we were blessed to see it on) with the wind picking up just a little, and showering Richard III with leaves, almost on queue, as he woos a man’s widow over his corpse. Ay, it’s a great thing, when the heavens provide your special effects.

And the whole play went thus, as a crowd of over 100, moved from picturesque room or steps or courtyard, moved from scene to scene, and watched actors of talent and temper… a tale unfold.

And before getting into the actors, a bit more on the setting.

Ellicott City is a 30 square mile area, more loose community than incorporated sub-division, that traces its history back to its founding as a Flour Mill back in 1772 by Quaker Brothers named Ellicott. Nestled in the Baltimore-Washington bosom, the area is rumored to, like Rome, be built on seven hills.

So this is no concrete jungle or ‘great white way’ for your theatrical experience, it is a beautiful and languid tree-lined drive, followed by a pretty spooky uphill walk to make the (typically) 8pm showing, that takes place in the Grecian tinged ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute.

So that is the stage, not New York, or Charlotte, or DC or LA, but the woodlands of Ellicott City; and the PFI Historic Park is a stage worth traveling to see.

Now for those who prance upon that stage.

While there are many strengths to an outdoor production, there are also obvious weaknesses. There are minor moments of congestion and confusion inherent in herding a hundred people to and fro, and that very act of going in and out of the ‘reality’ of the play, perhaps can limit how engrossed the viewer can get into the play.

However I think the immediacy of being ‘in’ the play, and viewing that closely the actors and interacting in their space, compensates for any loss of concentrated immersion in the piece.

However one other weakness of an outdoor production, is the sound. Without the acoustics and sound system of a real theater the actors have to project to be heard, particularly should the weather pick up. Some actors were better at doing this than others. Some actors needed to project better. And some actors were stellar.

The word stellar has to be kept close to the name Vince Eisenson who stars as the titular Richard the IIIrd. He has, as expected, to carry much of the play, much of the language, much of the energy. It is a ponderous role to undertake, and Eisenson manages not just to suffer the weight of the role, but to carry it as if he was born to it.

Part of this may have to do with his youth, but more than that Eisenson’s Richard is a far more vibrant and lively Richard, no less tortured than other actors who have portrayed the character, but there is a sophistication there, a deft touch to his portrayal, that eschews mustache twirling, that makes the character’s ability to charm and deceive, more believable here.

Also of note is the performance of Associate Director Scott Allan Small, as he makes the role of Buckingham, that I think can often come off as no more than a yes man, into one of the formidable figures of the play. He particularly just shines in the scene where he mixes with the audience as he ‘attempts’ to get Richard to accept the crown.

Also the scene where Buckingham draws the line at the slaying of children, and demands his due of Richard, I thought was just played beautifully between the two actors of Eisenson and Small. The physicality of how they played that role, with Buckingham played as the brick wall in that scene (like Marvel Comics’ Kingpin transplanted to Shakespeare), against Richard’s flowing water, that seeps into the brick… and breaks it all to pieces.

And the CSC performance is filled with such capable actors, among them Dave Gamble, Greg Burgess, and Jamie Jager in a passionate performance as Richmond. Another highlight scene is with Ron Heneghan delivering a very captivating performance as the imprisoned Clarence; it takes place in a fireplace dominated prison opposite equally entertaining performances by Bart Debicki as Brackenbury (the lieutenant of the tower) and the actors playing his assassins (Rebecca Dreyfuss and Jared Murray).

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable and recommended production, by a theater company I do not think you would be wrong, in calling world class. And this is typified by the fact that the last few performances of their RICHARD III (ending the weekend of this writing) are all sold out.

But don’t mourn too much, if moved by this review to sample the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in the future and will be visiting the East Coast, 2013 brings new CSC productions of Shakespeare’s classic plays, among them ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

And If RICHARD III is a gauge, both shows will be much labored over in their construction, and much loved in their delivery.

Accolades go out to communications Director Sandra Maddox Barton for all her assistance, in making this review possible.

Movie Review: Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS 2012

Movie Review: Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS 2012

Well today I got the chance to see Tim Burton’s 23rd feature film, DARK SHADOWS. Starring Tim Burton’s actor of choice Johnny Depp, the film is a humor tinged send-up of the long running Gothic soap opera of the same name, DARK SHADOWS.

Rather than go for the Gothic horror element of the original, Tim Burton instead crafts a horror tinged comedy set in the 70s. There’s more of TEEN WOLF in this film than of THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

Add a soundtrack laced with the popular songs of the 70s, that seemingly has nothing to do with the film in question, some broad humor that misses rather than hits, and some groan inducing product placement (MCDONALDS, WHEETIES, MS. BUTTERWORTH all three product placements wasted on me, since I don’t like or purchase/patronize any of those) and you have a film that doesn’t exactly scream… hit.

That said, it’s innocuous enough, and works its way eventually to a satisfactory if unremarkable ending.

It’s not a movie you’re going to consider much if at all when you leave the theater, and in that way it’s like more than a few Burton films. I think both Burton and Depp together have gotten into this habit of making films of a type, with Depp playing these increasingly buffoonish and foppish characters, set in fairytale worlds that are variations on a, possibly, overused theme.

But these are the films Tim Burton likes to tell, so you get what you get. However for my tastes when Tim Burton tries to play it straighter and more serious, as in films such as BATMAN and SLEEPY HOLLOW, is when his films are at the most effective.

Also Johnny Depp is too fine an actor to continually play nothing more than the outlandish fool in successive Burton roles, I would love to see him play a role straight, or explore a character without winking at the audience. Watching Depp in these Burton roles is often like watching a sharp blade continually and purposely… being dulled.

I think DARK SHADOWS would have benefited from more Gothic and less comedy. But we have what we have. And even in a weaker effort, Tim Burton’s set design and visuals are always cinematic feasts.

So DARK SHADOWS isn’t necessarily a bad movie, it’s just not one I would suggest paying to see in the theater, or even being in a hurry to catch on rental, unless you’re a Burton fan, then by all means. But for the rest of you, DARK SHADOWS is a film you can afford to leave… in the shadows.

Grade: C-.

2011 Upcoming Movies/Films to be on the Lookout For!Pt. 1 of 3!

So 2010 was a fantastic year for film. Whenever you get me going to the theater over a dozen times in a year, pretty good year.

So before we continue with the 2010 Year in Review, will 2011 be as exciting?

Well so far the first two months of 2011 are pretty uninteresting film-wise (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of BABEL film released BIUTIFUL this January. He’s a brilliant director, but the film’s premise doesn’t interest me enough to see it in the theater, but I will pick it up when it hits DVD. There’s a film called LOVE that is listed as a FEBRUARY release but I haven’t seen it in any theaters, like too many intriguing films, such as BLACK DYNAMITE it probably can’t get distribution, so probably will end up straight to DVD, but sounds great. Like this year’s MOON. Another one I hope to check out on DVD at least). So let’s take a look at what films do have me interested enough to pay theater prices to view them:

THE UNKNOWN-Thriller-Release Date: 18 February- I wasn’t a fan of Liam Neeson’s TAKEN, and this film seems to be in the same playground. What does interest me is the director Jaume Collet-Serra, I was quite a fan of his ORPHAN.


Feb 25th sees the release of DRIVE ANGRY 3D and SHELTER. Both I’m pretty lukewarm on, especially DRIVE ANGRY.

So 3 maybes, that’s a pretty pathetic January and February.

March gets a bit better, RANGO is a fun looking, family friendly animated film.

I really am, as a filmgoer, tired of Matt Damon, you would think he was the only actor in Hollywood, but that aside the previews for ADJUSTMENT BUREAU by first time director look very good. So that one is on my radar. But really casting couch, can you cast someone besides Matt Damon?

Also in March you get Jonathan Liebesman’s BATTLE OF LA.

It looks a little less stupid than the similarly themed, and by all reports awful, SKYLINE. However Liebesman gets a little bit of rope with me for his film DARKNESS FALLS, which while it faltered at the middle, and limped to an ending, that first 15 minutes is impressively scary and effective! So BATTLE LOS ANGELES is a weak maybe.

So far a lot of maybes but nothing I’m really committed to seeing in the theater. Until… SUCKER PUNCH. I know going in this is going to be completely nonsensical, but I also know it’s a Zack Snyder film, and he is one of the few directors that creates films, truly deserving of the big screen. His film are visual game-changers, adrenalin fueled power houses, designed to rattle your bones and stun your senses. So even when his films stumble (WATCHMEN) they are still compelling, and Amazing, and definitely worth seeing on the big screen. So SUCKER PUNCH is my first must see movie of 2011. Congrats to Zack Snyder (That said , what the heck is wrong with Zack Snyder hiring a British Actor to Play Superman!? Really? Is America no longer producing actors? All our actors come from England, or Australia, or South Africa or Canada? Really? WTF? Comeon, I know there are home grown actors out there besides Matt Damon!)

Okay, so onto April…

April 1st sees the release of Duncan Jones’ follow-up to MOON, the film SOURCE CODE. An interesting DAYBREAKesque type time mystery/thriller/scifi flick. Sounds good.

James Wan’s INSIDIOUS sounds like a reworking of POLTERGEIST, sounds intriguing but have not seen a trailer. It’s a maybe.

Steven Soderbergh has been more miss than hit for me recently, and I’m getting a little tired of all these female Assassin films (SALT was good, but enough is enough) however HAYWIRE is getting buzz of being Soderbergh’s best film since THE LIMEY, so depending on the trailer may be worth a look.

April 22nd sees the release of the mysterious sounding APOLLO 18. I saw the trailer and looks intriguing, about the moon landings discovering (and covering up) evidence of life on the Moon.

Okay May 6th sees the release of one of the most hyped films of 2011, Kenneth Branagh’s THOR, which I discussed in a previous post. Up there with SUCKER PUNCH as a must see in the theater movie of 2011. It’s been a long time since Branagh has had a hit, I think interest alone will make this film profitable, but it being good depends upon if Branagh, can rise not only to the challenge of a blockbuster action film, but the quality of his own early success. I’m hoping he succeeds, and will be in the theaters to see for myself.

Okay so here it is almost six months into 2011, and the only films with any significant number of characters of color, particularly Black characters are comedies. Inane product like “Medea something something”, and idiots walking around in drag, or whining, snap your finger, shake your head, talk show complaining flicks. I mean I’m sure those films have their place, but everything in effing moderation.

Which is why I LOVED the fact that 2010 gave us films like TAKERS and OBSESSED and even THE LOSERS. It gets old, Hollywood films that have no characters of color, or worse the token, step and fetchit character of color (COP OUT anyone). IT infuriates, mostly because I go to the film festivals and there are dozens of great films and filmmakers of color out there, but their films do not get picked up for distribution.

I can see the conversation going something like this: “Wow a movie that has characters of color not wearing their pants on the ground, or cursing every other word, or not a comedy, or otherwise lowest common denominator?? In other words showing Black People as more than the propaganda and stereotypes we’ve spent billions of dollars to sell to their children? Nope, we don’t want any of that!!” :).

My facetiousness aside, that seems to be the general thinking of the gatekeepers, those who determine what ideas, perceptions, should or should not reach the larger consciousness and conversation of the masses (particularly American).

So my rule these days is to seek out films that star characters of color in non-stereotypical ways, challenging and hopefully uplifting ways (which generally means no Halle Barry movies ๐Ÿ™‚ ). And you’ll see by the films I select (with exceptions), if a film doesn’t at least recognize diversity in its casting, I don’t recognize it in the Box Office. It is one of the reasons I have very little use for Woody Allen films.

Okay tirade over, onto the rest of the year of upcoming movies:

June has films that should be heavy hitters, but I’m really not interested in. GREEN LANTERN film, while it has a decent director, not a fan of the lead casting, or the trailer. But film does have Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller and Nick Jones as John Stewart and Taika Waititi as Tom Kalmaku. So those three and decent word of mouth may sway me to see this film. Matthew Vaughn, follows up KICK ASS, with X-MEN:FIRST CLASS, I’m a bit indifferent about the film, but Vaughn is an interesting director, and removed from his uncomfortable juxtaposition of extreme violence and preteen kids, I should have less problem with this film then I did with KICK ASS. It’s a maybe.

And also in June, JJ Abrams, a hit and miss director for me, is coming off a big hit with STAR TREK so I’ll follow him into his latest release… the scifi/alien flicK, possibly found footage film, SUPER 8.


July 1st brings us Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS:THE DARK OF THE MOON, and I have to tell you, I have no real interest in TRANSFORMERS, but much like I said about Zack Snyder, I find Michael Bay a filmmaker who makes films that are deserving of the big screen. And he has an amazing eye for camera placement and shot sequences, that stays with me long after I have seen his films. That’s a rare Pekinpahesque ability he has, for getting his images… to persist.

There’s a shot in TRANSFORMERS 2, where Megan Fox is leaning over the prostrate Lebouf, and the helicopter flies over her head in slow motion. It’s an absolutely gorgeous shot. I’ve seen that particular scene maybe twice, about a year ago, and that image is still rock solid in my head. David Lean would be proud.

It’s an amazing understanding of the iconic, and what visually… compels. So caring very little about the Transformers, for his visuals, as well as being a director who uses a diverse cast (While not a fan of his lead actor, his supporting actors are always intriguing) I’ll be in the theaters for this movie.

July 22nd brings us Joe Johnston’s CAPTAIN AMERICA:FIRST AVENGER. Like THOR that’s a no-brainer for me. I’ll be in the theaters for it. And the 29th brings us the latest from Jon Favreau, COWBOYS AND ALIENS. Riding high on his new lease on life with the IRON MAN films, we’ll see if he can continue his blockbuster ways sans Robert Downey Jr.


August brings us yet more hack remakes and sequels, in a year full of them. Among them CONAN (Lead actor looks great, but the director has a horrible track record. This, right now, looks like rental fodder), FINAL FANTASY 5 (This one has a fledgling director, but one who has assisted James Cameron, and writers who did not write the atrocious previous films, but also have not proved themselves capable of doing any better, one of the writers has also written the THING prequel, so FF5 could be a good barometer for how good or bad the THING movie will be), and also FRIGHT NIGHT (by a director of comedic romances).

September 2nd FINALLY brings us a film with a couple of people of color in the lead, Zoe Saldana (of TAKERS, STAR TREK, LOSERS and AVATAR fame… yes she has been very busy ๐Ÿ™‚ ) as the protagonist in COLUMBIANO, and Lennie James (WALKING DEAD) as Special Agent Ross.

Though I’m not crazy that Hollywood is trying to groom Zoe Saldana to be the next Halle Berry, or the fact that the film is yet another SALT permutation, about a female Assassin seeking vengeance. Still, I’ll support COLUMBIANO strictly because of the casting of Saldano and James in a thriller.

September 16th brings us DRIVE the latest from director Nicolas Winding Refn of BRONSON and VALHALLA RISING fame, a heist/thriller it’s a wait and see. Stars Tina Huang and Tiara Parker.

Also on September, 16th Rod Lurie who helmed the brilliant CONTENDER and is master of political thrillers, enters more stark thriller territory with the remake of Pekinpah’s classic STRAW DOGS. I’ve never been a fan of remaking great films, the optimum form of that film already exists, re-release it in theaters rather than remaking it, or push the DVD. However, if you’re going to remake something for a new generation, then remake something that you can improve on.

While I quite like the casting of James Woods and Laz Alonzo, and it is intriguing to see Kate Bosworth and James Marsden kinda reprise their SUPERMAN RETURNS roles of ill-fated lovers (though Kate Bosworth looks completely different as a blonde, that and the scant years, have made quite a difference in her face, there’s something quite unusual and perhaps a bit feral in her face in recent stills, that makes her quite beautiful and quite perfect for the role of a woman burning from within), I’m still a bit wary.

No one has ever improved on a Pekinpah film, and I don’t think Rod Lurie is going to be the first.

That is a concern, as is the fact the film hinges on James Marsden filling the role, amazingly performed by Dustin Hoffman in the original, and to date Marsden hasn’t shown the ability to be compelling on screen, or to have the range to make you care about him. X-MEN, SUPERMAN RETURNS he’s always the least interesting person on screen. Still, Lurie tends to be able to get the performances he needs, so I’m intrigued enough to give this one a look.


23rd September sees the release of ABDUCTION. I have no interest in the lead actors, or really the premise, but John Singleton as director makes me intrigued. Mostly because he’s slated to helm the POWER MAN/LUKE CAGE film, and what he can do with this film, will speak a lot on whether POWER MAN/LUKE CAGE will be horrible or great.

John Singleton is a director I keep wanting to like, but his films tend to underwhelm. SHAFT was awful, yet his last film… 2005’s FOUR BROTHERS was good, if not great. So I’m hoping the years since that movie, have made him a stronger filmmaker. We’ll see.

And closing out September we have Daniel Craig in director Jim Sheridan’s DREAM HOUSE, “a couple move into house where murder was committed” type thriller/spook tinged film.

Some honorable mentions that I’m not sure when they are being released:

CARANCHO- Just saw a trailer for this Argentine thriller, and it looks great. Mad, and war touched, and a bit beautiful.

RUBBER- Okay I’ve seen my share of weird movies, but this trailer even gave me pause. A killer tire??? Trailer is pretty funny, take a look.

RED RIDING HOOD- I’m no fan of TWILIGHT, but this take on the Red Riding Hood myth, stars Gary Oldman, and the trailer is pretty good. Plus I’m a huge fan of Werewolf movies. This is one to go see.

BLACK HEAVEN- Distributed by IFC films, the trailer for this French import looks quite compelling. Something about a VR game, that has dark and mysterious consequences in the real world.

CONSPIRATOR- Just saw the trailer for Robert Redford’s latest film, concerning the trial of conspirators in the wake of Lincoln’s Assassination and it looks FANTASTIC.

LIMITLESS- The trailer for Neil Burger’s latest re-imagines the idea of someone with superpowers, powers used not to jump around in gaudy spandex, and fight crime, but the way most would probably use such gifts, to pleasure themselves and to acquire more. It’s WALLSTREET meets THE BIONIC MAN. Nice hyper-kinetic trailer.

BLACK DEATH- This trailer tells a tale of superstition, and a reign of bloody torture during the dark years of the 14th century. Quite compelling trailer.

Matthew Vaughn’s KICK-ASS Movie vs Mark Millar’s KICK-ASS Graphic Novel!


How to begin.

Let us be blunt and unsubtle, since that is in a nutshell what KICK-ASS, The Movie, wallows in.

Woah, tell me how you really feel.

Okay, since you asked. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve never had to go back and retweak a review. But my first viewing of KICK-ASS, I immensely disliked one particular part of the film, one character’s story arc (and I still dislike it), and it strongly colored my whole perception of the film.

And I think my original review, which follows focused too heavily on just that negative aspect of the film.

But there is a lot to like about KICK-ASS, a lot to like about Matthew Vaughn’s direction, and Matthew and Jane Goldman’s script, brings a lot of originality, strength, and humor to the source material. There’s lot of innovative, fun stuff in the script that wasn’t in the source material, and Matthew Vaughn’s commentary is as interesting as the film.

So that’s my revised review, because I felt my original review (below) while I still stand behind all the problems I had with the film, there’s a lot of great things that went into this film as well that deserved a bit of praise.

Okay onto the original review:

Having just finished the DVD (not having read the Graphic Novel first) I’m unusually divided on the film. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see this in the movie, or buy the DVD, but the film isn’t a simple one to dismiss or enjoy.

Why?

Because the movie while well made and well performed, I thought was way too morally bankrupt and more than a bit irresponsible. Not everything that comes into your head, should go out your mouth. And having a little child spout language that would give a sailor pause, which only nominally phased me while watching the film, but really began to trouble me in hindsight, serves questionable sensationalist and prurient needs. Ultimately the creators’ needs.

The film was a well paced, garishly colored spider-man type take off as constructed through the slightly demented psyche of series creator Mark Millar. However the caveat being it is a normal teen kid, nerd, who decides to don a costume and fight crime.

So brain off, it is a typical blood and bullets action flick, right? Well not quite.

Have we pushed the envelope of adults, being effed up, violent, cursing sociopaths so far that we have to now try and get children to act out these fantasies? I don’t know, it didn’t quite sit right with me.

Less for what the film is then what the film opens the door to.

Everything, all values, sacrificed to the selfish needs of ever more egregious creators, and an ever more deadened audience.

And perhaps that selfish need, to push the envelope, when weighed against the needs of the story, the needs of the young actress, and the needs of the young viewers who will ultimately get their hands on this movie, dressed up as a kid’s comic movie, perhaps the writer and director’s needs… should be outweighed. Not by committee, but by themselves.

Not everything that comes into our heads, should come out our mouths, or worse yet a young actress’ mouth.

Young Actors generally have a hard life. As they find their childhood chewed up in service of people who just “Want to have a laugh” as the brits would put it (Yes, I know Millar is Scottish).

Millar, spoke somewhat jokingly about, during the auditions, being slightly disturbed hearing his lines uttered by these young girls. A whole generation of Jon Benet Ramsey’s in the making?

And he should be disturbed. “Humanity is also our business” to quote the THIRD MAN. Because to some extent it’s a bit of child endangerment, and bad parenting, and something a bit seedier, that you have to embrace, and ask others to embrace, in order to portray these things.

The creators’ need to be shocking for shocking’s sake, which may work in the rather insular world of comics where people are “in” on the conventions you’re attempting to satirize and transgress, works less well in the broader world of cinema.

Making mountains out of molehills? Possibly, but at what point does paying a child actress to do what we want, to bring someone’s fantasy to life, cross the line? At what point does art stop and something not terribly unlike pornography begin? And whose responsibility is it to ask these questions, seek these answers and monitor that line? At what point does the creators’ responsibility to his muse, to his characters, perhaps take back stage to his responsibility to a child actor and to larger society? Do the comic book lines, this child actress is asked to recite and internalize, do these lines have weight and purpose and value transposed to the world of the quick and the warm? Or are they part and parcel of the withering of culture, and the desensitization of man?

Those are difficult questions. And I’m not saying I have the answers, but I’m saying the KICK-ASS film blithely wallows in its transgressions, without even given those transgressions the weight of acknowledging them. Which could have potentially made them mean something. And that omission seems more than a bit of a shame.

And you have to put that weight on the screen-writers of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman.

Having not been a fan of Millar’s WANTED comic, while being a huge fan of the much different, and much more moral, WANTED movie, scripted and humanized by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas; I went into the KICK-ASS film (where Millar had greater input) with a bit of trepidation.

Mark Millar.

I think he’s a talented writer. Starting out in main-stream comics as Hardy to Grant Morrison’s Laurel, he has written a couple things I am quite enamored of. He’s written more things that I am not a fan of.

I think it comes down to Millar is somewhat, or wants to be, the Takashi Miike of comics; absurdest and shocking for shocking’s sake. But that is when Miike, as I have stated before, in films like DOA or FUDOH is at his weakest and most boring, in films where he surrenders to the lowest common denominator in himself, when he eschews all limitations, and fills the screen with violence, body fluids, and excrement.

But give Miike a structure to work in, give him limitations, where he must resist his own temptations, his need to just “Have a laugh”. and he produces films with a surprising amount of heart, craft, and brilliance. With humanity. Films such as the oft praised THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA, and THE NEGOTIATOR among others.

And I think that same sensibility is true of Mark Millar, when he rises above the quick and easy method, of shock-jock tricks, and tries to say something, tries to tell an earnest story… he can be devastating. He can bring us THE ULTIMATES, he can bring us CROSSOVER.

And that’s because limitations aren’t the end of art, in many ways they are the engine of it. Roberto Rodriguez’s best film by a long way, is still his first, where his lack of budget necessitated the story be there, and that the story move.

But Millar’s tendency of late has been toward the extreme for extreme’s sake and I find that incredibly lazy and boring in a book or a film. And watching KICK-ASS, that’s what I was thinking: Here’s a movie that is too true to Millar’s sensationalism, and that’s why it has no heart.

Because the KICK-ASS film when it was over, I felt oddly unmoved, uninvolved, because the characters were all relatively reprehensible, the “heroes’ as well as the villains. It felt like the cut scenes of a video game, just violence, with no narrative or heart to make the violence mean anything. And nothing made sense; the cop who becomes BIG DADDY, and trains his daughter to be a cursing, mass murdering sociopath, to get revenge for his wife’s death?! Really? Really?!!

And the ‘hero’ seems to take Hit Girl’s and Big Daddy’s Mass Murder in stride a little too easily. So ultimately on a moral scale, and what is a film about Super-heroes but a morality play writ large?, I just had real issues with the film. The film walked a relatively serious line, too serious to give it any personality as a dark satire/comedy.

However, the film is not without its moments, that early scene where Kick-Ass saves a guy from a group of thugs… has real heart. And it does have definite strengths. It looks great. Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to keep the action moving, Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl lead a strong cast, the character designs are more innovative, and I think the script in places, was strong, and interesting, but I think the lynchpin of the film, has to rest with the arc of Chloe Grace Morez as Hit-Girl, in many ways I felt her salvation to be the central theme. Perhaps the very reason the stars aligned to give birth to a Kick-Ass, so he could be there… to set her free.

That’s the idealist in me talking of course, but hopefully that’s why people go to see these modern myths played out, to remind themselves, in an increasingly rudderless age, of ideas worth defending. Ultimately the film’s moral stance, or lack of, in the script by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman outweighs the strengths of the movie.

But is the script just being true to Millar’s source, or does it diverge?

So I came here to review the film. But thought it was necessary to also review the source material, the comic series, and see what the two medium’s shared, and how they differed, and where the movie went wrong.

I just completed it and have to say… the graphic novel addresses many of the issues I had with the movie. Excellent structure, married to I thought a far more engrossing story-arc for Hit-Girl and Big-Daddy. The true origin of Big-Daddy and Hit-Girl, is pretty ambitious, and pretty brilliant, being both sad, horrific, and costly. And gives a weight, and pathos, and tragedy that’s completely missing in the film.

Vaughn said he was worried about kids following the antics of a Kick-Ass, and I think by eschewing Millar’s downer ending, for both Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, he does glamorize his protagonists murdering antics, rather than an ending that redeems them.

In the graphic novel, Mark Millar offers subtle and human, in-between the violence. Restraint and humanity. When Millar mixes these elements in his writing he’s great, when he loses these touchstones, in pursuit of the cheap shock, or cheaper violence, he bores me and loses me as a reader (As in his WANTED graphic novel). Thankfully and surprisingly, KICK-ASS is Millar talking to us, rather than at us… and it is for the most part effective.

And effective is a word that also describes the art. John Romita Jr, is an artist that can be hit or miss with me, but he is great in this series. His slightly cartoony art, a nice counterpoint, to the at times extreme actions depicted. All in all, quite impressed with the story points in this graphic novel, and the ending, particularly in comparison with the film, offered a nice bit of closure and humanity. That particularly addresses Hit Girl’s abuse (because that’s ultimately what her fathers’s sculpting of her amounts to, he’s taken a child and made a serial killer), and how she comes to terms with it.

In Millar’s book you get the sense that all that violence, finally causes her to break, and comes to terms with wanting to put away these adult things and embrace her childhood. You don’t get that sense of closure and healing in Vaughn’s film, and that closure would have gone a long way to salvaging the film for me.

As it is, for me the film is an intriguing misfire, and the graphic novel a surprised and shaky thumbs up (Shaky, because in the end the book’s premise is still a dangerous lie, of a normal kid taking on crime. If you have a kid getting beat on by 200lb bad guys, metal plate or no, should he survive, he’ll be san’s teeth, and with a heavy case of brain damage. And looking far worse than just a little blood artfully applied to the face. It’s a dangerous and unworthy lie.)

So final grades: KICK-ASS DVD/Movie C-/C+ (Very intriguing Director’s Commentary)
KICK-ASS Graphic Novel B-.