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effectively blends black comedy, character-driven drama and action movie
Woody Harrelson stars as Defendor in a new indie film dealing with the subject of "everyman" superheroism. Peter Stebbing's film is a refreshment of the genre rather than a reinvention as the same theme of self-appointed superheroes has been tackled earlier in such films as John Ritter's Hero At Large or last year's Watchmen. Stebbings seems to be aware of this fact having no problems with a somewhat awkward, but totally relatable tone. He effectively blends black comedy, character-driven drama and action movie. His script is a shrewdly multi-layered one: part a compassionate character study, part "one man can make a difference" story. The acting is yet another high point. Harrelson plays the character as proud, hurt, confused, and furious, yet still remains perfectly authentic. Kat Dennings as a wounded runaway that supports our hero is also very believable. In the end though, Defendor seems far less than the sum of its parts largely due to the film's small scale not letting it fly high as well as less-than-spectacular ending. Despite this, Defendor is still one to see. 7.5/10 (B)
a refreshingly funny and wickedly entertaining spectacle that warrants the whole franchise of masked teenagers to come
Aptly titled Kick-Ass is an excellent comic book adaptation that proves that there is no stagnation in a superhero genre whatsoever. Based on Mark Millar's violent tale Kick-Ass is directed by Matthew Vaughn, the filmmaker who happens to have a real knack for both action movies (Layer Cake) and teen fantasies (Stardust). It's more than evident in Kick-Ass and although the film has some problems with selecting the proper tone: it verges between campy comedy, dramatic piece and action spectacle, this is a gripping ride from start to finish.
Vaughn's direction is nothing less than clever and kinetic. By employing video game techniques inspired by Shoot 'Em Up and Crank movies, Vaughn really excels at showing highly-stylized bloody violence on screen. As for the script, the main concept of an ordinary teenager who chooses to become a superhero is downright effective evoking loads of laughs and our sympathy. Aaron Johnson's cool, unrestrained performance also helps a great deal.
The film revitalizes the genre by undermining its rules. The characters involved have no special powers, most of them, no necessary backstory and no turning point that resulted in them becoming superheroes, much like in Watchmen. Despite this, the movie establishes its own pantheon of heroes and the director knows that there's nothing more fascinating than the battle between good and evil shown in a vivid, exciting fashion.
What's controversial about the film is the extensive use of pitch-black humor including the character of 11-year-old Mindy McReady aka Hit-Girl who has been trained from the early years to become a killing machine by her loving father aka Big Daddy. The whole subplot may be immoral for some who don't understand this kind of cinema, yet it's surprisingly plausible due to a tongue-in-cheek writing and acting talents of Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage who are as subversive in their respective parts as you can get. Last but not least, the artist formerly known as McLovin' channels a wannabe villain named Red Mist. You may be actually surprised by how smart he is in his plotting.
Overall, Kick-Ass is a refreshingly funny and wickedly entertaining spectacle that warrants the whole franchise of masked teenagers to come. 9/10 (A-)
Harry Brown (2009)
focused, raw and character-driven
It took Michael Caine almost 40 years to come back as an avenger. Get Carter from 1971 was a gripping thriller that benefited from Caine's vivid performance a great deal, Harry Brown does exactly the same. Caine plays his character like he was a retired Jack Carter providing welcome pathos along with charisma and dry wit. There is more to like about Harry Brown aside from Caine's tour-de-force performance though. Daniel Barber's crime thriller is focused, raw and character-driven. The cinematography happens to be stylish and the climax abounding with nail-biting suspense is the movie's high point. Even if Harry Brown doesn't entirely avoid clichés as well as revenge movie trappings, it feels very much in line with more distinguishable films of its kind.
The Slammin' Salmon (2009)
very funny from start to finish
The filmography of The Broken Lizard comedy troupe is very much hit-or-miss. Their latest restaurant comedy The Slammin's Salmon is one of the troupe's true wins. Kevin Heffernan directs this heated contest at a high-profile Miami restaurant whose aim is to try to earn sufficient money to save the restaurant being used to pay off a gambling debt. Obviously, The Slammin' Salmon is not going to win any awards for creativity, yet the film has what it counts the most in comedies: it's very funny from start to finish. Similarly to Super Troopers and Beerfest, the humor can be described as situational and while some set-ups result in predictable outcomes, the majority of jokes is quite clever leading to even bigger laughs by the end. The characters are diverse enough to surprise us displaying near-perfect comic timing. Michael Clarke Duncan starring as an overbearing chief is a standout. His performance is so over-the-top that virtually irresistible. I wish every comedy was so immediate and apt in delivering laughs as The Slammin' Salmon. 7.5/10 (B)
Shutter Island (2010)
undone by its lazy, messy and full of its own importance script
The latest picture from Martin Scorsese ranks among his worst. Shutter Island tries to be an engrossing mystery, but the movie is just undone by its lazy, messy and full of its own importance script. A somewhat reasonable concept gets lost in an abundance of surrealism and nonsense. Both director and leading actor Leonardo DiCaprio aren't really at the top of their game. The latter just wanders around the island trying to reveal the conspiracy and meeting strange characters whose talk is puzzling and fractured. What's even worse, less than half way through it becomes apparent that the film can only resolve in one way enabling its used-to-death twist to enliven and assure viewers that the film makes no sense whatsoever. It's only a shame that the actors involved are respectable. Another reason why this film is a misfire is that it doesn't really try to be grounded in reality of any kind. It resembles an artificial construct, sadly not very exciting to watch.
filled with the feelings of isolation and paranoia
Giving birth to a child is usually regarded as blessing. What if our beloved child is not interested in eating mother's milk, but prefers a solid portion of fresh blood? The answer to this question provides the amazing debut of Paul Solet entitled "Grace". The movie can be best described as a disturbing meditation on the unbreakable relation between mother and child. Steering clear of horror genre conventions, Solet's movie is firmly based on reality providing truly visceral scares out of the unusual, yet intriguing concept. Filled with the feelings of isolation and paranoia, "Grace" is incredibly effective and up to the point avoiding any unnecessary scenes which could distract viewers' attention from the main story. The movie feels like an undiscovered classic of genre cinema that mostly relies on creepy atmosphere, not unlike Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby". I'm looking forward to whatever Paul Solet has in store next.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
campy, gruesome, frenetic and most of all supremely entertaining
"Drag Me To Hell" finds director Sam Raimi coming back to his own roots. The movie is reminiscent of his cult Evil Dead series. Although it is not as amazing as "Evil Dead II", it still delivers a well-balanced combination of horror and comedy Raimi is famous for. After her unwillingness to help an old gypsy woman, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) experiences the unusual attack from the angry witch casting a spell on her. The movie oscillates between a supernatural horror and a farce making for an inventive, yet totally amusing thrill ride. Even though the ending happens to be predictable, "Drag Me To Hell" never fails to capture attention with its tour de force scenes depicting violent attacks of evil forces. The movie is campy, gruesome, frenetic and most of all supremely entertaining.
Up in the Air (2009)
smarter than your average dramedy
While it doesn't achieve the status of masterpiece, this is another very solid dramedy from Jason Reitman, a gifted filmmaker who proves not to be overshadowed by his father's persona any more. Up In The Air is far from being hysterically funny, yet its clever script happens to be timely due to the economical crisis. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is one of the top employees of the agency that dismisses people. Thus, he is always on the run flying to different parts of the US. During the course of time he meets two women who are about to change his viewpoint on becoming involved in the romantic relationship. The story is fluidly told and never ceases to be gripping. Reitman superbly balances the two subplots concerning dismissing people and Ryan's affair building to the climax that involves a surprising, well-calculated twist. George Clooney is graceful, if slightly underwhelming delivering some over-intelectualized lines even through voice-over. Once he gets criticized for it by his new co-worker Natalie Keener played by splendid Anna Kendrick. Both she and Vera Farmiga as Clooney's love interest are both amazing displaying unique characters with totally distinct features. Although Reitman's direction is always compelling, he still overuses sloppy indie music I dislike so much. Overall, Up In The Air lacks the edge and controversy to be classic in my view. It's still way smarter than your average dramedy.
Crank: High Voltage (2009)
shows the middle finger to all those glossy, restrained pieces of film-making
Crank High Voltage continues the series of over-the-top action movies starring Jason Statham as an indestructible hit-man, Chev Chelios. If you like the first installment, you will certainly enjoy this one as it retains the chaotic, clunky style, high-octane action and perverse humor of the original. What's more, directors/writers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor top themselves creating even more ridiculous, sexist and profane action flick with every other scene more absurd than the previous one. Their imagination seems to have no limits whatsoever: they even include some cool unexpected interludes into the movie. Being incredibly inventive, Crank High Voltage works as a highly entertaining parody of the genre that literally (the ending) shows the middle finger to all those glossy, restrained pieces of film-making that are called action movies these days. Obviously, it's an exploitation flick through and through that has perhaps more in common with Bugs Bunny cartoons than your traditional action film, but such an intense and wicked ride it offers should not be missed by any open-minded fan of the genre.
Star Trek (2009)
a sci-fi adventure movie at its peak
My opinion on the new "Star Trek" doesn't really differ from the general one. J.J. Abrams succeeded in making a reboot that's both fresh and respectful to its source material. He didn't experiment with the new technologies or complex narrative, but conveyed the dynamic, yet totally comprehensible storyline intersected by numerous allusions to the old series. You don't need to be a trekkie to fully enjoy this movie that can be described as humorous, fast-paced and universally gripping. The action sequences are never less than awe-inspiring. The transformation of James T. Kirk is entirely believable and unforced. Chris Payne is great in this role, just as practically everyone from the distinguishable supporting cast. "Star Trek" can be considered a sci-fi adventure movie at its peak, still it lacks certain kind of depth and emotion to be truly remarkable for me. Nevertheless, it's without any trace of doubt an essential viewing even for people who have not been particularly interested in this saga before.