Monday, April 26, 2010

Fairly Topical Movie Review: “Kick-Ass”

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with film critics. On one hand, I think they take themselves way too seriously most of the time and judge movies by unfair criteria. They love to look down their noses at action movies, or comic-book movies or lowbrow comedies. But on the other hand, I know that these guys are forced to watch a lot of bad movies as part of their jobs, and for someone who has made their whole life about movies, a bad one can feel like a personal insult to them. They’re frustrated by a system that cares about nothing but the bottom line, and so almost every movie that comes out is a remake or a sequel or an adaptation of some kind, things that are low risk for the studio but that are also low on originality and creativity. So I understand why they’re such hateful, spiteful stuck-up movie snob. But understanding their motivations doesn’t make them any less assholes, so like I said, love/hate.

Like most people I’m sure, when a movie comes out that I want to see, I read a lot of reviews first before I go see it. And when the reviews are bad, it’s frustrating. Not because I think the movie might really be bad, but because I feel like the critic is talking down to me because I wanted to see it in the first place. You’re not smarter than me or better than me just because I like a movie that you don’t, and that goes for everybody. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, I’m not calling anyone an asshole just because they disagree with me, it’s the elitist attitude that I find annoying.

That being said, when I read negative reviews of “Kick-Ass”, I was frustrated but I wasn’t surprised. A comic book, action movie with lowbrow humor, based on a comic by the often hated on Mark Millar. It already had several strikes against it. But I’ve never read the comic and I don’t really have any strong opinions about Mark Millar. I love comic book movies and I like action movies, so I thought it looked great. And I wasn’t disappointed.

“Kick-Ass” asks the question, what would happen if people put on costumes and tried to become superheroes in the real world? Maybe it isn’t the first movie or comic to ask and answer that question, but it definitely puts a new spin on the idea. Dave Lizewski is an average high school student, and a comic book nerd. He decides that the motivation for a masked crime fighter doesn’t have to be a tragedy or a thirst for justice, it just has to be someone who is naïve enough to give it a try. And so he puts on a costume and takes to the streets, and during his first encounter with a pair of criminals, he’s promptly stabbed and hit by a car. The movie’s approach to violence is one of the things that I think makes it feel real, there are consequences. The other heroes that Kick-Ass meets aren’t shy about using guns, and they don’t hesitate to kill. The violence is excessive, at least compared to your average superhero movie, but it never feels gratuitous, because it has a sense of realism with it.

After he recovers, Kick-Ass eventually sets out again, setting his sights a little smaller this time by looking for a lost cat, but he happens upon a fight that he can’t walk away from. Pretty soon, thanks to a video of him that ends up on YouTube, he’s a celebrity. One of the other interesting aspects of the movie regarding how costumed heroes would be received by the real world is the way the media is used. One of the first things that Kick-Ass does is create a FaceBook page, and he uses that to find people who need his help. He’s treated by the media like any other celebrity, complete with late night talk show hosts taking shots at him. It’s an interesting thing to think about, how costumed crime fighters would operate in the real world.

Kick-Ass eventually meets Big Daddy and Hit Girl, two heroes that are far more prepared than he is and far more violent. Even though the movie is mostly told through the perspective of the title character, these two are the real stars. Big Daddy is played by a scenery chewing Nicholas Cage as a psychotic Adam West-esque vigilante, complete with a tragic event in his past, an exaggerated sense of right and wrong, and a personal vendetta against the local mob boss. Hit Girl is his foul mouthed, tough-as-nails daughter/sidekick, and she’s responsible for ninety percent of the ass kicking in the movie. Fans of Cage’s more recent over-the-top character work often debate whether or not he’s aware of his own image and embraced it. His turn as Big Daddy definitely seems to show that he’s in on the joke. It’s melodramatic, but he plays it straight. If he hadn’t, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. As for Hit Girl, her character arc is probably the most dramatic and the most interesting, even more so than Kick-Ass. In the end, she shows Kick-Ass what it really takes to be a hero.

“Kick-Ass” is a movie with a mix of styles: Action, drama, comedy. It makes you laugh at things that aren’t funny, and it makes you feel for characters that are largely caricatures of classic comic archetypes. But ultimately in the end, it’s just a fun ride.

My Netflix Rating: Four out of Five Stars

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stand-up Comedy Review: “Joe Rogan: Talking Monkeys in Space”

Joe Rogan once described himself on the Opie and Anthony show as the bridge between the meatheads and the potheads, and I can’t think of a more perfect description. Like most people I think I first became aware of Joe Rogan on NewsRadio, where he spent four years playing the eccentric electrician Joe Garrelli. After that he spent five years as the host of Fear Factor, where he shouted encouragement to large breasted women eating animal genitalia. And now, if you happen to see Rogan on TV, he’s likely to be offering color commentary for the UFC or interviewing a fighter at ringside. That’s quite an eclectic resume, and the reason I think he’s enjoyed success with such a wide variety of careers is that he doesn’t take any of it too seriously.

But despite all of his other jobs, Joe is a comedian first and foremost. And the aspect of this career that I enjoy the most has to be his appearances on the Opie and Anthony show, where he functions as half pied piper for hallucinogenic drugs and half mad scientist, turning the boys onto all sorts of weird and interesting information about the world around us. Just imagine watching the Science Channel while high, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

“Talking Monkeys in Space” is Joe’s most recent stand-up special, and in it he talks about evolution, and how it doesn’t mean that there’s no God. “All I’m saying is that God created a monkey, that doesn’t like to think it’s a monkey, and lies a lot.” He talks about how a lot of human behavior is just ‘leftover monkey shit’. Whether it’s climbing to the highest branch or following the alpha male with the shiniest fur. He takes on bullshit artists like Ted Haggerty and Dr. Phil, people who succeed in life based on nothing more than telling people what they want to hear. But no matter the topic, Joe always manages to put an interesting spin on it and make you think about it in a way that you never have before, and of course, make you laugh. So check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Marvel vs. DC: Animated Movies

Marvel and DC have both been releasing a lot of direct-to-DVD animated movies over the last few years, and most of them have been really good. But the ultimate question of course is which are better; Marvel or DC? So I’ve put together a little breakdown with some mini-reviews so I can decide for myself. Since I haven’t read any of the comics that these movies are based on (apart from a few issues of The Ultimates), I’ll be judging these movies on their own merits and not based on their source material.


Ultimate Avengers:

Based on the comic “The Ultimates”, a gritty reboot of the Avengers, this feature may not be as gritty as the comic but it gets the job done. We get the conflict between the team members, reluctant to work together but forced to because of a threat too big for any of them to face alone. The action is good. I wasn’t that impressed with the animation but that could just be because I’m so used to the Timm-verse style of the DC movies and television series. But all in all I thought it was well done, four stars.

The Invincible Iron Man:

During an excavation to unearth an ancient Chinese city, Tony Stark digs up far more than he bargained for. The animation gets a real upgrade for this feature, as a lot of elements are done in 3D, specifically the elemental spirits that Iron Man has to fight. The story is fun, the voice work is good, and the action is great. All in all, the perfect appetizer for the first live action movie and probably the best of the Marvel efforts thus far. Four stars.

Doctor Strange:

Doctor Strange is one of those characters that I always thought was cool even though I didn’t know much about him. The thing that struck me most about this movie was its similarity to The Matrix. Our protagonist, gifted in his field, feels like there is something missing in his life, stumbles upon a secret war, joins a group of warriors, learns that he has a special destiny, is betrayed by one of his fellow warriors, and in the end he defeats the evil that is threatening them. The animation and voice work was good, the story and the action was great. Four stars.

Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow:

Of all of the movies listed here, this is the only one that felt to me like it was geared toward a younger audience. It was essentially “Jim Henson’s Avengers’ Babies”. The premise is interesting, that the Avengers are all killed by Ultron and that their children are raised and protected by Iron Man until they finally have to stand up and fight for themselves. The whole thing just felt a little too Saturday morning for me. Three stars.

Hulk Vs.:

This one is a double feature, “Hulk vs. Thor” and “Hulk vs. Wolverine”. Ultimately I think the goal with these was to let the Hulk let loose. He’s the most powerful creature in he Marvel universe, but rarely do we really get to see the violence that he’s capable of. The action is pretty good, but I think the story lacked in a few placed. The Wolverine one had better action and the Thor feature had a better story, but together they average out to be…well, average. Three stars.

Planet Hulk:

Every Hulk story that I’ve ever read or seen before, the character focus was always on Banner. The Hulk represented something that was happening to Banner, or at most a side of Banner, but as a character in and of himself, not so much. The Hulk was a force, a creature of pure rage and little else. But Planet Hulk turned all that on its ear. For the first time (to my knowledge) the Hulk has a character arc. He has wants and needs, lessons to learn, decisions to make. And in the end, he even gets the girl. I thought this was a great story, with good action and genuine character drama. Four stars.


Superman: Doomsday:

Based of course on the famous Superman run in which the man of steel is killed by the titular Doomsday, this movie was the first direct-to-DVD title that DC put out after Justice League Unlimited ended in 2006. DC set the bar here with what they wanted these features to be; more mature, more violent, closer related to the comics. And Doomsday doesn’t pull any punches, from the violence of Superman’s death, to the menacing evil of Lex Luthor and the creepiness of Toyman. I have to say that when I first saw the voice cast, I was dubious. I was used to the way the characters were drawn and voiced on JLU, and change can be scary. I’m not too fond of Superman’s character design in this, his jaw line and chin dimple are bordering on ridiculous. But the voice cast does an excellent job here, especially James Marsters. His portrayal of Luthor is quieter and colder then Clancy Brown’s, but it’s no less powerful. Four stars.

Justice League: The New Frontier:

Based on the graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke, New Frontier takes place in the 1950’s, in between the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. It’s an interesting time in the DC universe that isn’t often explored. The government doesn’t trust these heroes, but they’re forced to work together against a common threat. We get origin stories for Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, we get to see some cool retro costumes, and we get a great voice cast ranging from David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan to Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash. One of my favorites of the DC movies. Four Stars.

Batman: Gotham Knight:

Much in the same style as The Animatrix, Gotham Knight is an anthology of six short anime-style stories loosely woven together, taking place in the new movie universe after the events in “Batman Begins”. Each story is done by a different director with a different animation style. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as the Dark Knight in each of the six features. In my opinion, Conroy is the quintessential Batman, and he lends a lot of credibility to the movie. It’s a style that fans may not be used to, but Conroy reminds the viewers that this is still our Batman. I’d have to say that this one is my favorite of the modern DC movies. The animation is beautiful to look at, the stories good, and the voice cast does a great job. Four stars.

Green Lantern: First Flight:

Along with Gotham Knight, this was the only other DC movie not directly based on a specific comic. The animation and the action was good, I’ve always liked the Green Lanterns. As an origin story though, it felt rushed. They stuffed so many story elements into such a small space, I think it all came out a little jumbled. But ultimately, it was still a fun movie and I liked it. The voice cast was good, though I have to say that I liked David Boreanaz in New Frontier better as Hal Jordan. But Michael Madsen as Kilowog was good casting. Three stars.

Superman / Batman: Public Enemies:

“Lex Luthor's attempt to win the presidency the old-fashioned way... by buying it, seems to be picking up steam. New poles show that 22% of Americans now support his third party bid. In a completely unrelated story, 22% of Americans now indicate a preference for getting [beep]-ed in the [beep] with a red hot poker!”

One of the things that I liked most about this movie was the more mature humor that was sprinkled without, complete with PG-13 style cursing. And of course, the fact that they got the original voice cast back again. Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and Clancy Brown all reprise their roles from the DCAU, making this feature feel like an old friend. The story is fun, the cameos are plentiful, and the action is great, but what really makes this movie for me is the friendship between Batman and Superman. Two characters who by all accounts shouldn’t like each other as much as they do. Daly and Conroy make it feel real, and it lends real weight to the climax of the film. Plus Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor going batshit crazy at the end, what’s not to love about that. Four stars.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths:

Again, when I saw the voice cast for this I was dubious. This time I’d say they’re batting around .500. William Baldwin, James Woods and Gina Torres were all great. Mark Harmon and Chris Noth, not so much. It’s hard to be overly harsh on Chris Noth as Lex Luthor, since he’s an alternate universe Luthor, and therefore who’s to judge what could be out of character. But still I found the performance kind of flat. And Mark Harmon just didn’t feel right as Superman to me. As for the story, I loved it. Ask anyone, I’m a sucker for alternate realities. There were some out-of-characters moments for Batman I thought, lying to Johnny Quick to get him to sacrifice himself, but ultimately I liked the climax with him and Owlman. And the Owlman character was extremely interesting I thought, and well voiced by James Woods. The Martian Manhunter/President’s daughter storyline I could have done without, but all in all I liked the movie a lot. Four stars.

The winner: DC! The animation and voice work is consistently better, and the stories are generally better as well. Maybe I’m being influenced by the DCAU, which I believe has also been consistently better then most of the animated series that Marvel has put out over the years. But still, I have to call this one for the Distinguished Competition. So what do you, the viewers at home, think?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

YouTube Theater: Literal Videos

These are a lot of fun, here are a few of my favorites.