Sunday, August 18, 2013

Oh, take your tampon out Dave

Along with 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,' Matthew Vaughn's big screen adaptation of the Icon comic series 'Kick-Ass' by Mike Millar and John Romita Jr. was one of the pleasant surprises of 2010.  Irreverent, ultra-violent, exploitative and loaded with black humor, 'Kick-Ass' is beloved by fans and critics alike for its witty satire of the superhero genre and allowing Comic-Con geeks to fantasize that they, too, can be superheroes. 
'Kick-Ass 2' picks up where 'Kick-Ass' left off, and we see Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz) go their separate ways.  While Dave still wants to fight bad guys and defend the weak and innocent, Mindy, who's now adopted by Detective Marcus, has to hang up her purple tights and wig in order to live a normal life.  It's Hit-Girl versus Mean Girls as she attempts to navigate the perilous waters of teen angst and catty high school clique bitchiness.  Meanwhile, without Hit-Girl by his side, Kick-Ass joins a new 'family' of masked vigilantes called 'Justice Forever' led by former mob goon Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) while Chris D'Amico, formerly 'Red Mist' (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), seeks revenge for the bazooka-killing of his dad at the hands of Kick-Ass by transforming himself into a villain mastermind called 'The Motherfucker.'
Like its predecessor, KA2 brilliantly balances its R-rated, blood-soaked violence and sexual content with a good dose of zaniness and humor.  Once again, Chloë Grace Moretz steals the scene and shines bright as the irresistibly cute and potty-mouthed little bad-ass Hit-Girl, who told Kick-Ass to do what the title of this review says when he writhes on the ground after a brief bout with her on the training room floor.  And wow, her climactic battle with The Motherfucker's über-henchwoman 'Mother Russia' is quite literally one for the ages.  Therefore, I felt it's only appropriate to rename the movie accordingly in the poster below.
Sure, KA2 is a bit formulaic and predictable, but in a movie like this what's important is the journey and not the destination.  And what a gleefully fun ride it is!  The bittersweet ending of the movie also provided the perfect closure to the Kick-Ass/Hit-Girl saga.  What can I say?  It had me at 'hello.'

Grade: A+++

Sunday, August 11, 2013

So this is how the 1 percent lives

It's been four years since South African director Neill Blomkamp's gave us the cerebral and original sci-fi actioner 'District 9,' so his follow-up, the eagerly awaited sci-fi epic 'Elysium' is long overdue.  Blomkamp's movies are above the norm because they are more than simple popcorn sci-fi action movies; they also have a social message and serve as a cautionary tale on where we might end up if we don't take responsibility and treat each other with humanity.
While 'District 9' was an allegory of the plight of Africa's poor and hungry with aliens filling in as second class citizens, 'Elysium' could be a forecast of how humanity may really look like in 2154 if the current gap in socio-economic inequality continues unabated.  Before you get all self-righteous and start calling this movie a socialist manifesto, I'll stop here and just say that 'Elysium' isn't heavy-handed or preachy at all.  Like 'District 9,' it gives us pause and makes us reflect on the current (and possible future) human condition, for better or worse.
Matt Damon plays Max DeCosta, a working class 'automaton' who tries to stay out of trouble despite having a sarcastic wit which earned him a broken arm from a droid.  After an industrial accident which gave him just 5 days to live, he became a man 'transformed' out of desperation and became the last ray of hope for the dispossessed on earth who could only look up at Elysium (a massive wheeled space station for the rich reminiscent of the one in '2001:A Space Odyssey') with yearning and dream.  Jodie Foster has never been more ruthless as Elysium's secretary of defense, especially when she barked out the order: "Activate Kruger!" with such cold authority.  And Sharlto Copley, who was the timid fugitive victim in 'District 9,' played the predator this time and was marvelously evil as Kruger, a loose cannon soldier-for-hire who became the personal attack dog for Jodie Foster's Delacourt.  Unfortunately, as it sometimes happens, the dog would turn on its master.
With a great storyline, beautiful cinematography contrasting the Elysium paradise and hell on earth, and the hyper-kinetic action that is Blomkamp's trademark, we have another winner here in 'Elysium.'  Gritty, sympathetic, visceral and realistic, this is the kind of sci-fi movie I enjoy the most.

Grade: A

Family Ties

I've always found Jason Sudeikis to be pretty funny on SNL.  He brings a smarmy, sardonic wit to his roles, whether he's plugging feminine products with a straight face on ESPN Classic as a sportscaster or expressing his disapproval as the professor of Japanese Studies on the Michigan college cable talk show 'J-Pop America Fun Time Now!'  'We're the Millers' is the SNL alum's third movie, following in the wakes of 'Horrible Bosses' and 'Hall Pass.'
In the tradition of National Lampoon's 'Vacation,' 'We're the Millers' is a family road-trip comedy, except the Millers are a fake family composed of a small time drug dealer (Sudeikis), a stripper (Aniston), a not-too-bright but well meaning virgin (Will Poulter) and a rebellious runaway (Emma Roberts) who aren't on vacation at all.  The whole scam was put together for the convenience of making a drug delivery from Mexico to the US, because what are the chances that such a nice All-American family can be mistaken for drug smugglers, right?
Never mind that we can't seriously buy into Sudeikis being a drug dealer, or Aniston being a stripper/pole-dancer for that matter, because this whole ridiculous premise is only the set-up for the hilarity that ensues as the faux family-in-their-Winnebago had to overcome one crisis after another.  There are some truly bawdy but funny gags, like what a tarantula did to poor Kenny's jewels, or when 'mom' and 'sis' gave him his first kiss.  But 'We're the Millers' also has heart.  The most memorable scene is when the Millers sang along with TLC's 'Waterfalls' on the radio.  And while the movie is ultimately predictable in that these four people who at first can't stand each other (except for Poulter's Kenny) later discovered that they really are a close-knit 'family' and looked out for each other, we can forgive the movie for its sins because it made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Be sure to stick around for the gag reel in the end credits, which tops off with a different version of the family sing-along song and took the 44-year old Jennifer Aniston on a pleasant trip down memory lane.  Can you say "Awwwwww!"?

Grade: B+