Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cinematic catch-up: Kick-Ass, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc.

I've written in thus cyberspace before about how I like to theme my movie-watching. This month I did it unintentionally. 

I watched two movies that starred the young actress Chloe Grace Moretz: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Kick-Ass.  I saw two movies that starred Clark Duke: Kick-Ass and Hot Tub Time Machine. I also watched two movies that allegedly exploit their wise-beyond-their years actresses: Kick-Ass and The Runaways.  And those two films features Joan Jett music to boot. I also watched The White Ribbon, which has nothing to do with any of those films, but I saw it, so on the list it goes.

Kick-Ass: This flick has developed the reputation as this year's love-it-or-hate-it affair. Some people, especially in the geek crowd, think this is one of the year's best films. Other people, like Roger Ebert, find it morally reprehensible because it turns a 12-year-old into a killing machine who also actually gets hurt.

Whenever such controversies erupt, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. So it goes with Kick-Ass. Maybe it's the Libra in me, always trying to balance those scales.

I can see why Ebert and others have thrown up righteous indignation: the tone of the movie is wildly inconsistent. At times it seems to be a larger-than-life satire with a wink in its eye. Then it pulls the rug out from under the viewer by doling out real black eyes. It's a thrill to see the young Hit Girl (Moretz) running roughshod over the bad guys to the strains of Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" - and then it's jarring to see her bleeding and grimacing in pain.

I see the point the movie is trying to make - it wants to offer vicarious thrills and show that such thrills have a price. But the filmmakers don't balance their act very well. The shifts in tone are too sharp, and it's hard to know just what to make of the film. Stanley Kubrick walked the tightrope brilliantly in A Clockwork Orange, this movie isn't anywhere close.

Still, for all it's uneasiness, the film is worth seeing, even if in my book it's not worth loving. The action, well directed by Matthew Vaughn, delivers, and it scores based on Moretz's sassy performance alone. She's a dynamo. Viewers who've seen 500 Days of Summer will recognize her as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's younger sister. GRADE: B+

Hot Tub Time Machine: I grew up in the 1980s, but I hold very little nostalgia for the decade, which to me reeks of artificiality and bad taste. Still, I understand that for some people, those things are part of the decade's appeal, and Hot Tub Time Machine captures that well. As far as "Let's get drunk and party" movies go, this one is actually pretty funny and clever. It's just naive enough to think that Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" is a really great song, and it's just self-aware enough to make us realize how silly some people were in the 80s for thinking Poison was a really great band. More than anything else, the cast, including John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke (Pictured) , put this one over, and the script actually has a brain in its head, even if it's a little sloshed. GRADE: B

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: This movie, to me, seems a textbook (diary?) example of something that probably works great in print, but less well on the screen. The books are wildly popular, and the movie seemed to capture some sense of them with its clever bits of animation. On the whole, though, this just seems like a garden variety Nickelodeon type movie. It would have been much better had it not kept undercutting its own good ideas with standard-issue gross-out gags. Moretz is fun but doesn't have enough to do playing  the older classmate who is the boys' first inkling that girls might actually be kinda cool. GRADE: B-

The Runaways: And here is episode two of Precocious Young Actors: Exploitation or no? In this movie's case, yes, but that's the whole point. The Runaways were Exhibit A of exploitation. That's their story. As this rock biopic tells it, one of their manager Kim Fowley's first reactions upon seeing 15-year-old singer Cherrie Cure  was "Yeah! Jail Fuckin' bait!"

Dakota Fanning completely throw herself into the role of Curie. Fanning's maturity and skill as an actor have always belied her young age, but now that she's not "the cute kid" anymore, it's startling to see her dry-hump the stage during a school talent show scene. She's not only talented, she's fearless.

On the whole, the movie's a fairly standard tale of rags to riches to rags (at least for Curie)  but  the performances are what sell it. Kristen Stewart is well cast as Joan Jett, Michael Shannon again proves himself a scene stealer with his flashy turn as Fowley, and whenever Fanning is on the screen, The Runways sprints. GRADE: B+

The White Ribbon: Now here's a funny thing. This is undoubtedly the deepest movie of the lot, and is the one that will get about as much space as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I know that's incongruous, but there's a good reason for that: This is a movie that I can't absorb, and thus can't throughly review in one pass. For now, suffice it to say it's beautifully shot in black and white, and very well directed by Michael Haneke. Its burn is perhaps a bit too slow, but as a tale of the dawn of World War I,  it chillingly points to the shape of things to come. GRADE: A-

1 comment:

Allison M. Dickson said...

I really enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine. Cusack was phenomenal--I loved the sort of Lloyd Dobbler trench coat he was wearing in the latter half of the movie. :)

I also think this was a breakout film for both Rob Corddry and Clark Duke.

I may see Kick-Ass. I am just not convinced it will be nearly as fun now as I was hoping it would be.