Rewind Review: Kick-Ass

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass had been touted by some who had seen it prior to its release as the next generation of comic book movies which is a lofty moniker to live up to and some have fallen woefully short of this expectation. Kick-Ass not only reaches this lofty praise but fair exceeds it on many levels. It is a film that takes the subgenre in a new direction bravely and boldly.
One of the biggest contributing factors to this film’s overwhelming success is the outstanding performance of its lead cast. Aaron Johnson, as the title character, delivers what is likely to a be a star-making performance. While that ability has always been apparent he has yet to have such a showcase as this. His American dialect is not only unique but completely bulletproof such that many who have recently seen him interviewed were completely unaware that he is, in fact, British.
Probably the second biggest contributing factor of the film’s success, in terms of casting, is Chloë Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. While she too recently proved herself in a smaller role in the film Diary of a Wimpy Kid she absolutely breaks out here with a film that was released later but clearly shot first. In one of the better plot devices the film employs the title character/protagonist/narrator is the least skilled of the would-be real life superheroes and it is Moretz as Hit Girl and Nicholas Cage as Big Daddy who give us the audience the jolt of the graceful, intelligent, funny and nearly infallible heroes we expect. Yet as seeing this film will prove as the events are taking place in the real New York City and not Gotham there can be grave consequences for these vigilantes.

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Nicolas Cage delivers a performance in this film that once again is making me eat my words to an extent. Last year in the marginally bad film Knowing I lambasted Cage. It seems he took that film, and many in the action genre (Many of which are Bruckheimer-produced) off. It’s not an excuse for his line-ready badness at times but just a fact because in this film he was, dare I say it? Glorious. And this coming on the heels of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. He had something here to sink his teeth into and went at it full boar and created a superhero alter ego who seemed to be the bastard child of Adam West and William Shatner and was so funny he challenged my ability to control my Coca-Cola filled bladder.
Last but certainly not least in deserving a mention is Christopher Mintz-Plasse. While he will never be able to shake being McLovin’, nor does he really want to, he was starting to run the risk of being pidgeon-holed in a very small subset of roles with this he is still in the nerd vein but he did get to stretch a little bit and does play a character with dimensions, a struggle, an arc and ambition. In another fantastic twist, which shouldn’t be that hard to do, Kick-Ass gives us the origin story first as opposed to other comic franchises who insist on backtracking towards them in spinoffs, sequels and/or reboots.
Another major element this film benefits from is the implementation of verisimilitude. By constantly giving you reminders that this film is different from others in its ilk in as much as these are real people and not aliens beings or billionaires with fancy toys the stakes are raised greatly and almost anything can happen.
It is this very verisimilitude that allows the film to hit many different notes of emotion throughout the film and also play with tone going from comedy to drama to suspense with ease and in the blink of an eye.

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The facile nature of bouncing from tone to tone also allows the pace to stay steady such that when the pedal hits the metal and the film is driving towards the finish you are hooked and literally at the edge of your seat.
Another aspect in which this film separates itself and makes it somewhat different is that it also seeks to please by having our heroes have good kills. Generally this is a notion of the horror film genre when you know that the body count will be high so it’s a matter of creatively disposing of victims not so much the fact that they do die. The same applies here in this film where there are many henchman to work through before getting to the ultimate villain and the film really thought about how to fluidly and creatively have these obstacles eliminated.
One sequence towards the end where Hit Girl is in the enemy’s lair is not far off the finesse and prowess of the massive fight scenes in Kill Bill but like with that film to reduce this film to a massive bloodbath would be an injustice.

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As I frequently say, and will write on shortly, I am not one for hyperbole so take the following statement as an apt comparison, due to the fact that Kick-Ass ends with Red Mist (Mintz-Plasse) reciting a line from the following film: I, not being a comic book film completist by any means, have been waiting for something like this since Batman and it is good to know that it can happen and that the exalted feeling I had leaving the movie theatre is not reserved for childhood.
10/10

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61 Days of Halloween: Carrie (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, go here.

Carrie (2013)

I’m well past the point of complaining about remakes based on principal alone, as a matter of fact, the same goes for sequels too. In part, the reason for that is that it’s sort of a myopic view of things. Throughout the whole of film history there have been series of films that refused to die as well as stories that either we (or the studios) have not grown tired of. Stephen King, as much of an institution as he is, is still with us such that it may seem that three adaptations in 39 years of the tale being in print is a bit much, especially when the writer is in question is not only alive but prolific.

However, as I said, some tales just have a way of sticking around (in the words of King himself “Sometimes They Come Back”). Therefore, invalidity cannot be assigned based on the existence of this third version alone. The second being a 2002 rendition that I needed to be reminded just recently was actually a thing that I’d forgotten about.

With regards to the text itself, I am not a huge, huge fan of the book. I like it fine. However, when Stephen King recounted that early on he was dissatisfied enough to throw out his manuscript and it was his wife’s salvaging it and belief in the story that had him stick with it; I was not surprised. And, of course, I’m glad she did see something there because the rest, as they say, is history. It’s just that from among his oeuvre it never stuck out as a favorite, and it makes me glad I didn’t read him chronologically for that may have had me go on to other things. Prior to continuing, I must preemptively state that much of my discussion of this film will read like comparative analysis and fanboy whining. However, I’m left with little recourse since the version created here reads so much like a copy of the first.

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I do, however, share King’s own high regard for Brian De Palma’s version of the film. It’s a tremendous cinematic treatment of the tale that’s masterfully directed, but moreover, a lot of that success is due to Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s portrayal as the mother and daughter (earning each an Academy Award nomination), whose relationship is scarier than anything supernatural that occurs in the book or film.

However, owing to the fact that film was released in 1976, and so much has occurred in the world, some things in the tale needed to change. Due to the supernatural element added to the tale, this was never a film that caused too much hullabaloo with regards to its depiction of violence in schools (this recent Variety opinion piece not withstanding). This was a book that though occasionally banned, was never cited as the impetus for violence as his brilliant Rage was (written under his nom de plume Richard Bachman). Keeping all that in mind, as well as all the horrific incidences of bullying and school violence in the intervening years since the original big studio release and this one, something had to be altered to make this truly effective to a modern day sensibility.

Now, that’s not to say Carrie had to be altered to a point of un-recognition, or be tasteless and tactless in rendition, but while the situation she’s put in (the infamous inciting incident) does engender sympathy it seems a mere drop in the ocean compared to the stories of real life occurrences. Granted there are two escalations of Carrie’s humiliation with regards to that incident, however, it feels it needs a bit more.

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The incongruous and dated feeling that her humiliation gets is not aided by many production choices. In aesthetic terms the film feels stuck in many regards. While there are cell phones and an upload of the video to the internet some of the costuming (Miss Collins, the gym teacher’s attire) as well as the automobiles (all seeming to be of an older vintage) that had the film feeling stuck between a modern 1970s-set remake and an update that underscores the relative timidity of Carrie’s initial torturing. If anything the backward nature of the White house house should have stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the town.

Much of the discussion regarding the film and whether it works or not has surrounded Chloë Grace Moretz. If you look at my site you’ll see that in her breakout year she won my Entertainer of the Year Award. Clearly, I am admirer of her work in general. And where her involvement in this film falls short has more to do with production than anything on her part. The first thing that must be acknowledged is that all actors are artists, and the inclination of anyone remaking something is to put their own stamp on it. So expecting Moretz to reproduce Sissy Spacek’s turn is folly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you’re not casting someone to imitate someone else but rather for what they bring to the part. Considering she does have a past with horror, and vast experience, Moretz makes about as much sense as anyone. Things that were lacking with regards to building her performance have to do with editing (when it’d be more effective to see the results of what she’s doing rather than her reaction to it) but more often it’s actually in hair and make up. And I mean that in all seriousness.

There is a sequence of edits when the coach is trying to build her up and in some editing slight-of-hand she’s tidied so the barely-hidden, beautiful girl she is. The fact is more work needed doing to make Moretz seem more like a Carrie White than a Sue Snell. Her hair and dress both needed frumping up. It came off a bit too much like the glasses-and-a-ponytail gag in Not Another Teen Movie.

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Yet the biggest flat-lining in the film is the rote repetition of the exact story beats almost exactly as they happened before save with more advanced but inconsistently rendered CG. The wrinkles were often good (the principal’s inability to say the word “period,” Maggie’s self-mutilation, Tommy playing lacrosse, etc.) but these are all small things and when so much of the film is precisely the same, but emotionally flatter; you need more. There are occasional moments of viscera at the beginning and end but far too much “meh.”

“They’re all going to laugh at you,” Miss White says. This version isn’t quite laughable, but I was not impressed this time around at all.

4/10

Considerations for the 2013 Robert Downey, Jr. Entertainer of the Year Award

Originally I didn’t want to list considerations for either Entertainer of the Year Award or Neutron Star Award. The reasoning behind this was that these awards being for a body of work should’ve had their winners be rather apparent. However, owing to previous memory lapses, I reconsidered this philosophy.

Therefore, any and all eligible, worthy candidates for either award will be kept on this list. It will be one of the running lists that I update on a biweekly basis.

In essence, this will give those who stand out in these categories their due. For example, last year I felt remiss in not mentioning Matthew McConaughey in my explication for the Entertainer of the Year Award for 2013. In my reasoning behind Samuel L. Jackson’s win I had to talk about his year and how great it was and why Jackson’s superseded it. With this list, at year’s end I will be able to discuss each of the prospective candidates works.

Please note that while this award only requires two ‘participations,’ no “eggs will be counted before they’re hatched,” meaning if I have yet to see a second title, though I may expect to, that person will not be listed yet.

Without further ado, the candidates…

Candidates

Nicholas Hoult
Dwayne Johnson
Ryan Simpkins
Ty Simpkins
Rebecca Hall
James Franco
Spencer Treat Clark
Michael Shannon
Bruce Willis
Chloe Grace Moretz
James Wan
Hailee Steinfeld
Sandra Bullock
Abigail Breslin
Ben Kingsley

BAM Award Winners: Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year

This award is one I will present annually to the actor, writer, director or any combination thereof who has in my estimation the best year. The only real criteria is that they have multiple credits. The credits can be two responsibilities on the same film or more than one film. The idea came to me based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible 2008. He was the first winner and the name stuck.

2015  Entertainer of the Year: Will Ferrell

Sometimes it’s next to impossible to pick this award and not confuse it with a Lifetime Achievement award. Though the main difference is, even though this is also a body-of-work trophy it’s awarded for a year’s work irrespective of the accomplishments made in prior years.

Yes, Will Ferrell has been at it longer than many of us care to realize right now and I’ve been a fan for quite some time and think he has had very few misses along the way. However, this year there was a lot of stuff, all throughout the year, and it was all hilarious; at least his involvement was.

I like to be inclusive of comedy, and horror, and any other genres the awards generally disregard, so those are just some reasons this funny man is honored this year. Now, for some more specifics about his 2015….

First, there was Get Hard, as with any projects he does with Adam McKay behind the scenes there is silliness and farce in equal measure. There’s much topical humor about the world of high finance aside from broad generalizations and stereotypes exploited for comedic value.

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A Deadly Adoption really should have sealed it any, but these awards are ones that kind of occur to me rather than being ones that I consciously plot more often than not. First, this film was a secret project. It was then a surprise announcement as a Lifetime Movie mocking Lifetime Movies, mysteriously pulled from its premiere then rescheduled. It then received a drubbing from those not prepared for the film’s tongue-so-firmly-planted-in-cheek. Will McKinley’s take on it echoes my sentiments on it perfectly. It’s very effective, funny when the absurdity hits you with its subtlety and marks the 2nd straight year a TV film has been included in the BAM Awards.

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Ferrell Takes the Field is Ferrell taking his love of baseball to a hilarious extreme to help a charity, create a documentary and promote the MLB by making appearances at 10 positions in real Spring Training games. It aired on HBO and is well worth your time if you like him or baseball or both.

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Shortly after that I discovered that perhaps his most hilariously insane character Orson Welles caricature (my reading) Eric Jonrosh had The Spoils Before Dying on IFC. I was able to stream the first two so far. It doesn’t start as strongly as The Spoils of Babylon but he’s as funny as ever.

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Then came Daddy’s Home, a re-teaming with Mark Wahlberg and a return to more family-friendly fare where he’s more successful than most comedians.

The cherry on top of his 2015 was his unannounced return to SNL in a recent cold open as Dubya.

Clearly it was a great year for him, and one thing Wahlberg said in his junket/circuit interviews was true, to paraphrase he said “His comedy doesn’t come from a dark place, he just genuinely wants to me make people laugh,” and in 2015 he made me laugh quite a lot.

2014 Honoree

The Giver (2014, The Weinstein Company)

Brenton Thwaites

Oculus (2013, Relativity Media)

One of the awards in the universe of them that has always particularly bothered me are handed out at the ShoWest Convention. They are the Male and Female Star of Tomorrow. What bothers me is that usually when I see these winner announcements there is very little that the recipient has done to earn it. Seeing as how it is labeled as a “tomorrow” prize I can allow that to slide, but it gets my hackles up and gets me feeling like going on a good Dennis Green-style tirade. Even the BAFTA Rising Star Award to contrast usually has nominees who are a bit more accomplished. This roundabout lead-in is to explain the fact that at 25 years of age, yes, Brenton Thwaites is young but he had a breakout year unlike too many I’ve seen and I’ve missed one of his credited titles.

Early in 2014 he was one of four actors to give an absolutely tremendous performance in Oculus. Horror movies are both notoriously overlooked in terms of performance but also typically don’t even seem to care if there are good ones being turned in. His work as a young man who has just been released from psychiatric observation for a traumatic experience that lead to his conviction for the murder of his father is a tremendous part of the success of this film.

Then there is the small, yet significant role, that seems to need to factor into this award on an annual basis. He plays Prince Phillip in Maleficent. Now, one of the things that Maleficent did get right it is that the film was about Maleficent and Briar Rose almost exclusively, and similar to Sleeping Beauty (and other Disney tales) the prince is almost incidental, but he is cast well and carries himself quite regally.

Also in the summertime he was the face, the centerpiece of Jeff Bridges’ longtime-coming labor of love The Giver. Being the memorykeeper of his dystopian futuristic society he has to come off as the dreamer and a hero and does so in both calls to duty. He shares the screen with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep among others and does amazingly well in a film I thought to be highly underrated.

Lastly, there’s The Signal, which is far more than an “indie cred” project but a twist-heavy sci-fi tale that continuously wanders down the rabbit hole. Confused by his circumstances Thwaites’ character here is like a cross of his two other performances on the year and he has not only much dialogue to handle, but plenty of solo time in the early stages of act two where he excels.

It’s rare for a performer in one year to go from unknown to the reason to see a movie, but Thwaites certainly did that in 2014 in my estimation. If I were to place a bet on his future I would think it’s a sure thing but this award, unlike those others, is solely about the year you just had. Whereas, I had cause to nominate some actors twice like Tom Hardy, Thwaites certainly did threaten to earn individual nods, had a great year and established a cinematic presence one that I believe will both grow and linger for quite some time.

2013 James Franco

James Franco (People)

In what ended up being a prescient post I was assigned James Franco in a Facebook Actor Game. Basically I was assigned him by a friend and asked to categorize movies he’d been in. Here were my observations, both general and on one of his films of this year. In general:

In my first time playing I was assigned James Franco, which is a pretty interesting choice, and not just because he’s already in the running for Entertainer of the Year this year. So I figured I’d share my thoughts in something slightly larger than a Facebook post here. Also, if you’re so inclined you can like The Movie Rat’s Facebook page here.

And on the specific film from this year, This is the End:

It’s too early to tell if this film really is a game-changer, however, what can be said is that it’s a fantastically executed concept and uproariously funny. Crass and immature, yes, but funny too.

As it turns out it was a bit of a game-changer for James Franco, as opposed to a comedy trend (as of yet), because I saw a few other titles with him since then that sealed the deal.

Oz the Great and Powerful is no great shakes, but it wasn’t in my estimation a poor or disconnected Franco but rather a fairly flat film that he made a little more interesting and a less-than-admirable character.

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As for more specifics about his participation in This is the End, if it was the last film I’d seen him in this past year, I’m likely picking someone else as a winner. However, the fact that in the middle of the performances of his I saw is a hilarious send-up of how he’s perceived (being perhaps overly-intellectual and perhaps pretentious) while shouting down Danny McBride’s masturbatory habits is the jewel in the crown, for lack of a more humorous term.

Following that I saw Homefront. In Homefront he plays a character named Gator in what is essentially one of the more ideal Jason Statham vehicles yet devised. And while I’d fall short of calling his antagonistic turn there multi-faceted it is a bit more dimensional than most characters of that ilk are given the leeway to be. Franco’s handling of the character and the way he operates surely make Gator stand out more than he likely wold have in the hands of most other actors.

Spring Breakers (2013, A24)

Lastly, at least based on what I saw, there was Spring Breakers, now you’ll note I didn’t particularly care for that film. However, make no mistake about it that there are things about it that I appreciated, and had it not been for Franco as Alien I may not have even have had the desire to complete it because after a certain point he was all that tethered me to the narrative.

That just takes into account what I could see. Many other things Franco was involved in hit Netflix later in the year, or didn’t even get there by year’s end, and they are things I do want to see, like: Interior. Leather Bar., Lovelace, As I Lay Dying, Palo Alto and Child of God.

And that’s just film work. With Franco going to adapt classic works of literature like The Sound and the Fury, I’m more than a little curious about his fiction. All that and he’ll be back perhaps a bit more inspired of all this for the continuation of the Apes prequels. One way in which this award can be viewed as in a career-path altering one, at least in terms of perception. My first selection, the namesake, was a comeback; next a multiple hat-wearer; next a breakout star; next an established star with a varied year; here it’s more an established name elevating his standing in my eyes based on an incredible run, may it keep going.

2012 Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson

I think I did start to list potential candidates for this but then thought it’d take some of the drama out of it. Also, if you have to think too much about a body-of-work award like this one, it’s nearly invalidated.

So first there are honorable mentions…

I admit to being woefully ignorant about the oeuvre Joss Whedon before this year. I was not one of the legion following his TV series’. However, with the anticipation building towards The Avengers I saw Dr. Horrible and previously fell in love with The Cabin in the Woods.

Late in the year when this topic was bandied about Matthew McConaughey’s name was getting a lot of traction for roles in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy and Bernie. Also, Mud did well on the festival circuit and is an anticipated 2013 film for me. McConaughey’s year was astoundingly good.

So why not those two? Whedon lacked the spontaneity of some of my past choices. I know of him but not his work and was looking forward to the releases based on premise/buzz. McConaughey’s accolades though mostly genuine almost seem like mea culpas. For whatever reason, he’s got a bad rap. I’ve always liked his work. He hasn’t always been put in the best situations casting-wise (I like Contact but that comes to mind) but if anyone sees Frailty they’d be willing to give him a permanent seal of approval. I’d argue he’s always been underrated and never phoned anything in unlike some who reach tongue-in-cheek cult status, and this year he found dynamite parts and knocked them out of the park. Always felt he could, but was a closeted fan.

However, owing to the fact that last year’s winner had four roles of note and set sort of a precedent and also appeared in films I saw at different stages of the year, those things are some of, but not the only reasons, I choose Samuel L. Jackson.

Jackson, of course, is part of the phenomenon that is The Avengers. To an extent Jackson’s work as Nick Fury is akin to Alan Rickman’s in the Harry Potter series. Jackson has been establishing Fury as the Marvel Universe built itself up on film. The culmination of the effort is the first Avengers film.

However, before and after that film in the year there were two indies that when combined with Django Unchained make him the clear choice.

Now, Meeting Evil and The Samaritan may not be the most universally embraceable films but I enjoyed both and he seemed to also. Sam Jackson has been quoted as saying that he sometimes bases decisions on roles by deciphering if he would’ve wanted to see these films when he was a kid. I think all his choices for 2012 pass that test with ease.

Last, but unquestionably not least, is his performance in Django Unchained. What he does there is nothing short of astounding especially when you consider his screen time. He plays older than he is, adopts new physicality, puts a slightly different spin on his usual tough-guy persona, and then, with impeccable timing and brilliant results, sends up the sidekick subservience that far too many African-American actors of the the past had to settle for.

However, when hearkening to the past in a different way, Jackson also took part in two films that could be classified as neo-noir and played both sides of the equation (protagonist and antagonist).

Smauel L. Jackson is the kind of actor who upon being involved in a project elevates it and has the potential to do something extraordinarily special. He did so in 2012 four times over. If that’s not entertainer of the year, I don’t know what is.

2011 Andy Serkis

Now, I know what you’re thinking but believe it or not this has very little to do with The Rise of the Planet of the Apes though I will get to that at some point.

Andy Serkis was the lead in the first qualified movie of 2011 an indie film called Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll where he played Ian Drury a punk rock frontman and icon. The film covered a lot of time chronologically and he had a lot of character to play and was nearly honored by the BAM Awards with an acting nomination. It’s a film that makes some interesting creative decisions that is worth seeking out.

Next I saw him playing a completely different type of character entirely, as is par for the course it seems. He played Colleone in the British crime film Brighton Rock and every scene he had in it was just entrancing, he’s flamboyant and pure evil in it and it’s great to watch.

Not I will get to Planet of the Apes. I recognize and get a lot of the positive commentary Serkis received for that film. Whether or not motion capture work can and should be award fodder is a discussion for another time. He emotes for Caesar and makes him a character. In a film that could’ve used a bit more from the human cast he humanized the apes well.

What really seals it though is the fourth Serkis title I saw. When I went to see The Adventures of Tintin I saw his name in the credits and didn’t expect it. So I played a little game wherein I tried to figure out who he was. I had a guess but it wasn’t based on the fact that I knew it was him. It’s more like I know how versatile and impeccable he is.

The man truly is a chameleon and an entertainer to the core and more than deserves this honor.

2010 Chloë Grace Moretz

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A few years ago Robert Downey, Jr. was hot on the comeback trail and he could do no wrong. He made Iron Man much cooler than we ever thought it could be and he was side-splittingly funny in Tropic Thunder. Conversely I had been considering creating an Entertainer of the Year award for the BAMs. When those events converged I decided to both name the award after him and have him be the first recipient.

The only real qualification is that you need to have at least two participations (meaning they can be either two films in which you played the same function actor, writer, director, etc. or two functions in one film in which you excelled). Last year’s winner was Michael Keaton for starring in and directing The Merry Gentleman.

This year’s winner is a young lady who has burst on to the scene with three very memorable performances in three disparate films and is now one of the most sought after actors in film.

Chloë Grace Moretz I first saw as a girl who is literally too cool for school in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She is the kind of character who while somewhat jaded doesn’t waste time trying to be someone she isn’t or impressing people who don’t matter.

Then, of course, there is her performance as Hit Girl. A turn that only just slightly missed multiple nominations. She literally is the whole reason Kick-Ass works, she floats through a bloodbath of her own creation with ease unlike we’ve seen since the Kill Bill series.

As if that wasn’t enough Miss Moretz also took on the role of the vampire in Let Me In, an American rendition of the neo-classic Swedish film Let the Right One In. While the script and director dictate a different direction for her character than previously indicated she still brings to the role incredible vulnerability, menace and a certain disarming innocence, which help make the film great.

For all those reasons she is Entertainer of the Year.

2009 Michael Keaton

Due to Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredibly entertaining performances in 2008 I decided to name an Entertainer of the Year Award in his honor. Naturally, he was the first winner. This year, at first, qualifiers for that award were few as qualification was stringent to be in keeping with the award’s namesake, meaning that a candidate needed two magnificent parts in films that both equally deserve recognition. Then upon further thought the “Entertainer of the Year” portion of the award’s title came to the forefront and the criteria changed slightly to two participations of equally great entertainment value and thus the award could be easily handed to Michael Keaton for his performance and his direction in The Merry Gentleman, for few had two acting roles that merited recognition on that level.

Keaton not only confidently directs a very adept cast but tells a tale visually with great cinematography. It is also a very different kind of tale which, consistently defies expectations. Unlike some actors-turned-directors the part he plays is not very large in terms of dialogue or very glamorous but it is a great part and he plays it astoundingly well. It is a departure from his usual affable persona. Also, unlike many actors-turned-directors he is unafraid to tell his story in pictures.

In an interview with Guardian he said “It’s great to make your own choices, but there’s a price to pay.” While more mainstream films and appeal have alluded him he found a film here he connected with on many levels. He has crafted a film onscreen and off it that is an embodiment of his statement that “You don’t want to lose your status, but I was never willing to preserve it by doing things I didn’t want to do.” Keaton may not be the name he once was in terms of box office figures but as an artist he has grown in leaps and bounds and this project is a testament to that and this critic hopes there are more on the way.

2008 Robert Downey, Jr.

What else can you say about a man who actually inspires an award to come into being? He literally could’ve swept the male acting categories in 2008 and there wasn’t much that he did that wasn’t awesome and he’s been on a pretty good streak since as well. The award is something that needed to happen and he gave it the push necessary.

Rewind Review- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used, on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

With reports already abound that the writers are and have been crafting a sequel since before the premiere the makers of Diary of a Wimpy Kid seemed like they would be getting off on the wrong foot by immediately violating one of my recommended cinematic resolutions (A piece I wrote at the start of that year urged studios to wait on sequel announcements). This is not the case, however, as for the most part there are few missteps and many, many positives in this funny family film that really is likely to please the whole family.

The first thing this film does right was to not fall into the in-and-out no one gets hurt motto of family-friendly filmmaking, which means they were unafraid of a slower pace which feels longer than it is and tells a lot of story. Even better is that you don’t really feel it at all because there’s plenty story there and no filler.

What allows this film to so easily tackle the extra running time is not only the fact that it takes a diary approach, starting just before the first day of school in September and going until the end of the year but also that employs a narrator, the protagonist Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), that not only moves the story along but at times talks to the camera directly, which is to this day a hard feat to pull of but it’s well done here.

This is the kind of film that doesn’t work at all unless its young lead is spot on in such a way that you not only identify with his situation but at times feel for it and this accomplished with deft and ease by Zachary Gordon. If Greg Heffly is misplayed at all, considering the story elements, he is not a sympathetic character but he adds to it a naive sure-headedness that make him readily identifiable to most audience members. Similarly, Robert Capron as Rowley easily becomes either like we were at that age, unwilling to grow up and unashamedly himself, or just like someone we knew- together they make this movie happen.

Kudos are also in store to director Thor Freudenthal not only for a second consecutive well-handled and non-condescending family film (Hotel for Dogs) but also for allowing some reality into the equation when dealing with Junior High School. Few films ever, whether through storyline or casting extras older, realistically depict the chasm in maturity that exists not just amongst kids at the same grade-level but between the 6th and 8th grade- you may never feel that extraordinarily short again as you do that year and this film finally addresses that other realities that are typically glossed over by other projects.

Another positive is the realism of the cheese metaphor. In the tale there is a piece of cheese stuck to the blacktop of the playground and it mysteriously never gets moved and it develops this aura. Stories develop and those who touch it are cursed. The flashback sequence describing the history of the cheese is a great subplot and also when it becomes crucial at the end as it is a great metaphor for the triviality and randomness about what is perceived as good and bad by peers in school. It is truly a wonderful touch.

The only slight issues this film suffers from is in the two-pronged rift that occurs between the two friends, it’s not so much that the rift happens because you kind of see it coming but it’s how they happen. First, there is a disagreement when Greg and Rowley are trying to collaborate on a comic strip for a school competition the reason it’s sort of an issue is a matter of personal preference. Basically, it’s an argument between Greg and Rowley where the film seems to want you to take Rowley’s side but in this viewer’s opinion Greg was right on that one- Rowley’s strip is funny in context of the film but taken out of the film Greg’s is better (Note: on re-views Rowley’s has become funnier in its un-funniness and the sequel deals with the joke better). Where Greg isn’t right is when he betrays his friend, of course, and here is where the moral of the film will come in. However, their rift gets prolonged because of how Greg handles his mistake after the fact, lesson learned ultimately but movie slightly lessened due to it- not to say that Rowley should’ve immediately forgiven it, but it was a sorry apology attempt.

Another way in which this film excels, however, is that the secondary characters do show some reality even if they are not as well-sketched as the leads. There is the Gym teacher showing favoritism in a not over-the-top way to his better athletes. Then there’s Angie (Chloe Moretz) who sits on the sidelines most of the time because she realizes how futile being popular and accepted at this level is if you’re not you. Even Greg’s parents just in how they react to one situation, Greg’s fight with a girl during The Wizard of Oz, is real and happens. Mom is disappointed and can’t even talk to him and dad says to Greg “I thought she deserved it.” Then there’s Greg’s older brother Roderick who never changes and always treats Greg poorly but is a proponent of a theory many know well “Just blend in.”

Ultimately, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a very enjoyable, insightful, thoughtful and funny film about an under-represted (in a realistic fashion) subset of the population on film.

8/10

Review- Dark Shadows

With a film like Dark Shadows I have to spend a bit of time discussing where I’m coming from here and couching it. While I cannot claim to be an expert, I am a fan of the show and do have quite a fondness for it. Having said that, there will be no armchair direction or writing here make no mistake of that. I will gauge the film based on the direction and manner it was interpreted not how I would’ve preferred it, and I will be explicit in explaining why it still doesn’t work.

From the moment I saw the trailer I had a sense for what this film was going to try to be. It’s a rare case of a trailer being true to the tone of the finished product. What you get in this film is a very uneasy balance between horror elements and attempts at humor and self-parody. Essentially, it tries to be The Brady Bunch films, which are true to the tone and spirit of the show but poke fun at the show too.

What makes this different and not as successful is a disharmony in tone. It goes from a facsimile of a horror scene to forced humor. I should’ve counted attempted jokes for the percentage of success was very low. I literally laughed out loud thrice, once was a suggestive joke David (Gully McGrath) made about Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). With the Brady films clearly it was always silly. How this would’ve worked better is either of two ways: One, be the kind of over-the-top horror the show was, which is humorous to some, or two, play it straight dramatically and tongue-in-cheek comedically. Instead, you could feel the gears shift and the sudden impetus “Must try and be funny now.” It’s one of the more forced comedies I’ve ever seen in that regard.

There are many Tim Burton movies I have loved. I am among the many who still have enough fondness for much of his work such that I will still come to see what he’s done. However, I’m not really angered by this turn so much as disappointed. Granted it’s not an original piece but I thought Dark Shadows and Tim Burton, what could possibly go wrong? The following did: The complete lack of tonal cohesion, the near glacial movement of the plot when there’s not an over-abundance of things going on, the thinness and simplification of characters.

Why is this one frustrating and not infuriating? I did like the performances for the the most part. Again, this is divorcing expectation and examining the actual content. However, it comes down to the milieu within which the players played. When the film is straight-up gothic-style horror it’s rather breathtaking. Those moments are few and far between but it shows the potential of the narrative had there been a sort of balance or reversal of tone.

Johnny Depp, who in his now long renaissance, is at times too big and too much the center of attention in certain films does well here. His Barnabas Collins is his own and I don’t begrudge him that, I just feel the performance would’ve been augmented further in a tale more worthy such an awesome vampire. For even in this rendition Barnabas deserves better.

Touching upon the Brady Bunch notion again there is the fish out of water aspect; the concept of the Brady films was that it was the 1990s and they were very much still stuck in the 1970s, while here Barnabas was in the 1970s after being interred in 1752. It plays the fish out of water but the film tries so hard with musical cues, other pop culture references and an Alice Cooper performance that is not up to his “Feed My Frankenstein” in Wayne’s World 20 years ago; that they just become tired, then trite and finally bothersome. We get it, it’s the 70s. Moving on.

Contrary to divorce where it’s only the children who suffer in a movie that’s bad it’s really only the kids who leave unscathed: Chloe Moretz doesn’t really have a lot to do here but shows a more mature side of her persona, which is easing and accelerating her transition from in-demand child actress to eventual A-List leading lady. Gully McGrath in sparing moments plays one of the more rounded characters in the film and shows a glimpse of his talent. Bella Heatcote, though not a child actress, is new talent who likely has much more to show in a more rounded role.

An example of a wasted, underdeveloped character in this film is that of Willie Loomis. Aside from being a weirdo his only other functions are being a stooge and a driver. Wonderful, really needed the new Freddy Kreuger for that part.

Partially to expiate the film its slowly moving, thin plot there’s some randomness thrown into the end of the film, which while are hat tips to the show are also slightly foreshadowed and only serve to prolong the cacophonous silliness that is the climax.

In the end, whether I agreed with it in principle or not, Dark Shadows made an attempt to do something different and it failed there also.


4/10