Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Kick-Ass

I was very skeptical about Kick-Ass after seeing the trailer for the film a few months ago. It looked like a re-hashed version of Mystery Men with some bad acting and terrible costumes. After hearing some good reviews and buzz around this movie I decided to give it a try yesterday. Fortunately my initial vibe was wrong as this movie is worth seeing, especially for the early best female performance of the year.

The story of Kick-Ass (based on a comic book I'd never heard of) revolves around Dave Lizewski, a high school student who has an ambition to be a super hero by simply putting on a ridiculous looking green jumpsuit and mask. Dave's alter ego Kick-Ass becomes a national sensation after video of his terrible fighting moves and wannabe vigilantism gains attention on Youtube. Kick-Ass meets up with other super heros including revenge-seeking Father/Daughter duo Big Daddy (Nick Cage) and Hit Girl (brilliant newcomer Chloe Moretz). Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin) joins in on the action as Red Mist. His father is a mob boss that serves as the head "bad guy" in the film.

The movie started a bit slow for me. We see the origin of Kick-Ass and there's a lot of early setup scenes. The last half hour of the movie more than makes up for it though with some crazy intense fighting scenes, especially the ones featuring Hit Girl. Chloe Moretz starred in this movie as an 11-year-old and she ends up in the role of a lifetime. Hit Girl has been trained from a young age by her gun-loving Dad (Cage) and possesses the martial arts skills and weaponry expertise of someone more than twice her age. Watching her kill thug after thug and curse up a storm in the process (I believe she says all of George Carlin's seven dirty words) is an amazing spectacle. Her character completely reminds me of The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill as she ends up killing at will for revenge. Moretz's acting is very good as well even when she's not in Hit Girl mode. I know this film is not Oscar bait but Moretz definitely deserves some consideration in the supporting actress category next year. It'll be interesting to see how her career progresses after being exposed to this type of role so early-on. My co-worker who saw the movie with me mentioned she thought Moretz may have a similar path as Natalie Portman did after staring in The Professional. We'll have to see if that holds true, as the Hit Girl role is so WAY over the top of what Portman was asked to do in that film.

The fight scenes and comedic bits are well orchestrated by Director Matthew Vaughn. This really is a pure action comedy throughout in the mold of Tarantino's best work. Overall I have to admit that the critics and fans were right and that Kick-Ass is worth seeing. I give it 4 out or 5 JR's and if you don't mind over the top martial arts or intense violence then go give it a look. Hit Girl is by far the most interesting character in the film (completely trumping the slighlty boring Kick-Ass). I would have rated this higher if it was called Hit Girl to be honest.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: How To Train Your Dragon

Dreamworks' kids spectacle How To Train Your Dragon follows Avatar in using 3D the right way, as the cinematic gimmick ends up enhancing the overall experience of watching dragons in flight. Josh, Alex and I went to a matinée showing of the movie yesterday. By matinée I don't mean matinée prices as the total bill for 3 people came to $35 (Thanks, over-inflated 3D prices!). I was worried that the boys would be restless since I opted out on the popcorn/drinks option this time. They both behaved very well and it was probably a testament to the movie which was exciting and well-paced throughout.

The film tells the story of a young viking boy who is pressured by his father and the rest of the village to become a dragon hunter. The boy (named Hiccup) ends up realizing that dragons are a mis-understood species and are actually quite nice and loyal if you take the time to train them properly. The familiar themes of loyalty, betrayal and parent-child dynamics are present throughout the movie but what makes everything feel new and fresh is the incredible visuals produced by the wizards at Dreamworks Animation Studios. For the first time in an animated movie, I felt the sensation of flight during the flying sequences. The combination of wind effects, sound and the added depth that 3D provides helped convey an extremely realistic aerial tone throughout. We're really getting close to the stage in digital animation where everything we see visually is almost taking for granted. Dreamworks and Pixar consistently give us perfectly rendered characters, scenery and effects. The driving factor in digital animation over the next 10 years will be the story and voice acting.

The story of HTTYD is clever and evenly paced. It's a little odd at first that the dragons in the film have the same mannerisms as cats, but eventually you just accept that correlation and it actually works by bringing the dragons and human characters closer together. The animators put a lot of care and attention to detail in how the main dragon (Toothless) communicates without words. I would say this movie is probably geared more towards kids of ages 7-11 (it is PG after all), but both my kids enjoyed it. Alex refused to put on his 3D glasses but still had a good time and hardly fidgeted. Josh said he was scared during some of the intense dragon scenes, but overall he loved the movie. I would recommend this to all my readers as a movie to see in the theater in 3D.
I don't think the flying sequences will translate as well at home on video, so make sure you get a chance to see it at your local multiplex before the next 3D sensation floats in. Kudos to Dreamworks for trying to keep pace with the boys at Pixar (this movie is MUCH better than UP by the way). I give How To Train Your Dragon a healthy 4.5 JRs and view this movie as an early contender for the animated Oscar award next year.