Thursday, 25 March 2010

Kick Ass

Opening with a flight through clouds as the titles rush at you and a score that sounds an awful lot like John Williams’ Superman score, Kick Ass appears to be going straight for the classic superhero start. We zoom down onto a man in a bright outfit, shu-shuck wings open, people on the ground stare in wonder. He dives from the roof, down, down, the music swells, at any moment he’s going to soar!
Well, no. One destroyed taxi and little mocking voice-over later and it’s quite clear this isn’t your every day superhero movie.

Kick Ass looks a lot like the other comic book movies being made, the colours are bright and primary, the costumes extravagant – except for Kick Ass’, we’ll get to that – and yet, beyond the look of it, there’s something unlike any of the other superhero movies out there.
When Dave (soon to be known as Kick Ass) asks his friends why no-one has ever tried being a superhero he’s told in no uncertain terms that it’s because they’d get the shit kicked out of them.
Undeterred, he buys himself a green wetsuit, a couple of batons and goes out to fight crime. On his first attempt he ends up in intensive care.
When he gets out he resolves to do better and here’s where the plot starts to kick in.
We are introduced to Damon MacReady and his little daughter, Mindy in the strangest fashion you are likely to see, as Daddy shoots his little girl so she’ll know what taking a bullet to the chest feels like and won’t be scared. Yup, this is the intro to the character all the advertising is being built around, Hit Girl.
Now, why is all the advertising being built around her? Well, the film might be called Kick Ass, but you are going to come away thinking Hit Girl.

Nicolas Cage does a fine job a Big Daddy, his costume looks to have come from The Dark Knight, but the voice, it’s a pure homage to Adam West’s incarnation of Batman and it works beautifully. The character has the obligatory tragic back story, but it’s his love and pride for his violent child that will endear him to you.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin!) does a solid job as Chris/Red Mist. His motivations for getting dressed in a costume are unlike the others and I won’t spoil it here. As a character he gets a little bit of a short shrift and doesn’t really get the scenes to really show his acting chops. There’s a hint at the end that he may well get the chance if this does well enough for a sequel.
Mark Strong as the Mob Boss, Frank, does his usual sterling work, taking what could just be a generic mob boss, complete with relapse into coke habit, and making him shine. Delivering lines with venom and humour, he’s probably the films most unsung hero so far.
Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski/Kick Ass does a solid job at the film’s centre. He gives a performance that’s believable and real. His terror and fear as things keep getting worse is completely believable.
The actor walking away with all the plaudits is Chloe Moretz as Mindy/Hit Girl, and rightly so. She steals absolutely every scene she’s in. From messing with her Dad by asking for a puppy and not weaponry to taking out a corridor full of gangsters she just holds your attention. It’s helped by the fact that she’s got most of the best lines and action sequences to herself. But again, it’s the loving bond between her and Cage that really make the films emotional centre.

But any big movie like this stands or falls on its action sequences, all of the above could be brilliant, but if the action was rubbish, it wouldn’t matter. Happily this is not the case. The three major heroes all have their own fighting styles and they are filmed in similar ways.
When Kick Ass fights it’s all wild flailing and hoping just to connect and not get too much shit beaten out of him. Just like anyone without training does. The camera goes with this in hand held, somewhat confusing, but deliberately so framing. Never so much that you can’t tell what is going on, just enough to disorient you like Kick Ass is.
Big Daddy is all business, one shot here, stomping and powerful. The direction here is smooth and clean, professional.
But the best is once again Hit Girl, she’s high speed, full octane and the scenes reflect this. Faster cuts, crazier angles as she bounces off of walls, these are the real action highlights.

The film is also very funny, from a young girl swearing to the bazooka gag there’s a great deal to laugh at here.

So then, is it worth watching? Worth plonking your hard earned down to see at the cinema?
A resounding yes. I’ll be going to see this again and I recommend it to you all.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Green Zone

Green Zone opens with Baghdad under attack as the war begins. Huge explosions rip through the city as a General scrambles to gather all of his things, including a diary, before escaping.
A quick cut to four weeks later launches us straight into the heart of Roy Miller’s job in Iraq – hunting for WMDs in areas where there is looting and snipers. It’s breathless and highly charged and it feels like before you’ve had a chance to settle in, the first contact, and disappointment for Miller, is over. You’ll need to pay attention here as dialogue is delivered at the speed of men who know what they are talking about, have done it many times before and are in no way trying to make it simple for the average person to follow.
These opening scenes quickly demonstrate the pace most of this film is going to come at you. People speak, listen and respond. There’s no repeating of something hard to understand in simpler form, you need to keep up with what is being said.

When Miller and his crew – a sadly under-characterised group of men whom we never get to know – are working on another clearly fruitless lead an Iraqi named Freddy informs them of a secret meeting.
When they act on this information this is where things start to get murky. From the appearance of the Delta team and the machinations of the various CIA agents working to opposite agendas, Green Zone doesn’t have any clean answers for most of its running time.
There is a slight sag in pace in the middle of the film as the flesh is laid on the bones of the secret, but then we head into the finale and the action ramps fully into gear.

The director, Paul Greengrass, seems to have learnt a bit more about shooting action since The Bourne Ultimatum as he keeps his distance from the action while filming in shakey-cam, meaning you can actually tell what’s going on most of the time.
As Miller Matt Damon is in nearly every scene and carries the film on the back of his performance. Miller comes across as a decent man, a professional soldier who has doubts about those leading him but faith in his own men.
And apart from Miller, there are no real stand out characters. Because all of the focus is on him we get very little chance to know anything about the people helping or opposing him. The exception to this is Freddy, his Iraqi interpreter, who lends a voice to the Iraqi people in his simple determination to just survive for now so that he can rebuild his country, which he loves.

The ending feels a little too much of a wish fulfilment, as we all know the events it portrays did not happen. Perhaps a few years down the line, when viewers who were too young to really know about what happened see it, it won’t be so jarring.
All in all it’s a solidly put together film. It’s no stand out and not one I’m in a rush to see again, but would probably watch it the opportunity presented itself.
For the action sequences, I say it’s worth a watch, for the story, worth a go, for the lack of real characterisation, probably worth a view if it’s on TV or someone lends you the DVD.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Solomon Kane

Starting with an impressive sequence that involves the assault on a foreign city and its strange castle, Solomon Kane wastes no time in getting into the action.
As Kane casually slaughters his way through guards, calling them foreign and pagan, you quickly get the impression that this is not a nice guy.
A creepy sequence involving mirrors and monsters leaves Kane alone in the throne room, but instead of treasure he finds himself face to face with the Devil’s Reaper – a suitably creepy monster – that tells him he’s going to be taken to hell, right now.
Kane escapes and renounces violence, going to live in a monastery.
When he is sent out from the monastery he encounters a Puritan family, after taking a severe beating by some bandits he refuses to fight, knowing the Devil will find him if he resorts to violence again.
Here the film takes a dip in pace. While we have sped along to this point there is a deliberate slow down as Kane learns about the family and the Puritan religion. With Pete Postlethwaite as the father, the story is never less than watchable, but I would have liked the pace to have been kept up.
When the villains finally appear and Kane renounces his renunciation of violence things start to move. The fights are brutal and violent, with Kane displaying a true talent for death dealing.
The story is quite strong and there are some fine performances from all concerned. James Purefoy makes a compelling lead, making a hero with a West Country accent seem like screen gold.
Yes, that’s right. Solomon Kane is from Somerset/Devon way and speaks like it.

While this character comes from the pen of the man who wrote Conan, the tones of this and the Arnie Conan films could not be more different.
While Conan shone with bright colours and the glory of being a warrior and a man, Kane is muddy and grey, just like the shades of morality that run throughout the film.
That is not to say the film isn’t visually interesting, because it most certainly is. Creature design and some wonderful sets give your eyes plenty to look at. Even the scenes in the woods manage to feel less than familiar, given how many fantasy movies take place in them.

Solomon Kane is a great slice of heroic fantasy and I would recommend it be seen. While it has probably gone from your local cinema by now, take a chance on it when it comes out for home viewing.

From Paris with Love

The film starts by introducing us to Jonthan Rhys-Meyers’ character, an assistant to the American Ambassador to France. He does some low level stuff for the CIA, changing a licence plate, planting a bug – a scene that doesn’t really milk it’s comedy potential for all it is worth – but all he really wants to do is get out a gun and shoot bad guys.
A simple introduction to a character we’re going to spend most of the movie with.
Then he meets his new partner – Charlie Wax. Loud, brash, abusive, xenophobic – he’s like the stereotypical American abroad. Portrayed with great zeal by John Travolta, who looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying every moment in this character, Wax starts to subvert our expectations almost instantly. The reason he’s there is because he’s the best and while his introduction calls that into question, his actions following that put that question squarely to bed.

But this is an action film and as fun as the characters are to follow, if the action is rubbish or the story pointless, you just don’t care. Happily this is not the case.
While I did suss out who the villain was from very early on, it added an extra layer of tension to a later scene that wouldn’t have existed if I was behind on the plot. I’ll point out here that the reveal isn’t signposted, but I’m a paranoid suspicious person and that’s why I got it.
The story is fairly standard terrorist plot fare, with a few early attempts to hoodwink both Meyers and the audience. The pace of the film rattles along at great speed and has no real flab to drag down the pacing.

So then, the action. Well, to start, this is directed by the man behind District 13 and Taken, two films with a solid action pedigree, so I went in expecting some good sequences. And I got them.
While none of the sequences are likely to live on as masterpieces, forever copied and imitated, they do their job exceptionally well. A car chase down the French motorway with Wax hanging out of his chase car holding a bazooka is great fun. The takedown of a group of street thugs is a fine piece of style and substance as we get a quick beat down as well as an insight into why the Americans have sent this guy to do their work for them.

All in all From Paris With Love is a good solid action movie. I had an absolute blast seeing it and will definitely be picking up the DVD. Whether you need to see t at the cinema will depend on your love for action movies, but if you don’t go, I’d recommend a home viewing. It’s worth paying money for.