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Entries in Christopher Mintz-Plasse (5)

Friday
Aug162013

Kick-Ass 2

While far from perfect, and certainly not as good as some fanboys claimed it to be, 2010’s “Kick-Ass” was a welcome addition to a cinematic landscape that was just beginning its superhero boom, arguably brought on by the success of “Iron Man” two years prior. The film took the superhero tropes we had come to know and mocked them, spoofing the genre while simultaneously creating a self-parody; a “Scream” for superheroes. Although inconsistent in that parody, it was nevertheless charming and funny enough to make the movie an easily watchable affair. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for “Kick-Ass 2.” The parody is thin, if not non-existent, the humor falls flat and the drama is inflated to an unmerciful degree. If you’re a big fan of the first movie, prepare to be disappointed here.

Taking place sometime after the events of the first movie, superheroes have become all the rage. The streets are littered with self-proclaimed heroes who, in reality, don’t do much of anything, much less stop evildoers. Once again feeling the need to take action, Dave Lizewski, also known as Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johson) returns to the streets. It’s there he meets Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison) who introduces him to a new league of superheroes forming an Avengers-esque team. There’s Insect Man (Robert Emms), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), their leader, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), and even Dave’s old friend, Marty, now known as Battle Guy (Clark Duke). Their formation couldn’t come at a better time because a league of supervillains is also forming. They’re led by Kick-Ass’s nemesis, Chris D’Amico, who now calls himself The Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Even worse, Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) has vowed to her new guardian that she would stop putting herself in danger and is unable to help Kick-Ass and his team.

The thing about the superhero genre, especially after all these consecutive years of watching our movie theaters get overrun by them, is that they practically parody themselves at this point. Look at this summer’s “Iron Man 3” as an example, particularly in the way (spoiler alert!) that it handled one of its main antagonists, The Mandarin, as portrayed by Ben Kingsley. It took this mysterious figure, one that threatened death and destruction and was feared around the world and deconstructed him into a joke, and a quite effective one at that (though I’m sure some comic fans will disagree). Like any good parody, it took our expectation of who and what a superhero villain should be and turned it on its head. For “Kick-Ass 2” to remain relevant, it needed to do something vastly different.

And it does, though the decided emphasis is misguided at best and downright disastrous at worst. Surprisingly, this sequel takes a drastic turn from the general goofiness of the original film and ratchets up the drama. While not necessarily a bad thing in theory, the drama was the first film’s primary downfall. Upon my initial viewing, I thought it was because it simply didn’t gel well with the over-the-top antics of the scenes those brief dramatic moments were wedged in between, but if this movie is any indication, it’s simply because it’s just not done well, no doubt enhanced by director Jeff Wadlow’s inexperience with such matters (and whose only other feature length efforts are “Cry_Wolf” and “Never Back Down,” hardly an impressive pedigree).

Whereas the drama in “Kick-Ass” merely bogged down a bit of the fun, the drama hear bogs down the entire movie. If it’s not the embarrassing “Mean Girls”-esque subplot where Hit Girl is trying to fit in at school as a normal teenager, it’s heavy handed dialogue and ridiculous slow motion shots (including the obligatory “phone dropping to the floor after receiving bad news” shot). However, none of it is done in jest, rarely acknowledging its self-aware undercurrents that were so prevalent in its predecessor. The only person who seems to understand the absurdity of the movie he’s in is Mintz-Plasse as The Motherfucker, who, despite an overall darker character turn, transitions well from the previous movie, bringing what little fun he can to a movie that is anything but.

It would be unfair to place blame on the other actors, though. Carrey, in particular, is fantastic as Colonel Stars and Stripes while the rest of the cast similarly does what is called for. The problem lies in the screenplay, which slaps them in far-too-dark, overly emotional nonsense. While some clever moments remain intact, the bulk of the film fails to elicit the excitement, fun or humor of what came before. The action is serviceable, but nowhere near as stylish, the laughs are few and far between and the story lacks polish—loose ends are left unresolved and recognizable characters from the last installment show up briefly for a line or two before disappearing, never to be heard from or mentioned again. “Kick-Ass 2” had the potential to be bigger and better, to take the solid foundation of “Kick-Ass” and make it something special, but it fails on nearly all fronts.

Kick-Ass 2 receives 1.5/5

Friday
Aug172012

ParaNorman

Animation is too often thought of as a children’s medium, which is an unfair classification. While it does tend to skew towards them, adults can be just as thrilled, delighted, scared and amused as any young kid. This week’s ParaNorman is evidence of that and it hits all of those emotions many times. This is the first film since 2009’s underrated gem 9 that feels more mature and more alive than most other conventional animated films. Despite its PG rating, it takes many risks in its sometimes unnerving tone, frightening visuals and boundary pushing jokes (let’s just say some parents won’t be pleased by a late movie character reveal) and it’s absolutely wonderful. This is not animation for kids. This is animation for everyone.

The film follows Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young boy who has a special gift: he can see and talk to the dead. The people of Blithe Hollow think he’s a freak, as they watch him walk down the street seemingly talking to the air. What they don’t realize is that the afterlife is indeed a real thing and Norman gets to watch as people journey through it. Perhaps appropriately, he’s a horror fan and stays up most nights watching scary movies on television. The walls of his rooms are lined with zombie posters, his slippers are zombie heads and his alarm clock is a tombstone with an arm sticking out of it and a big “RIP” on the front. Naturally, his odd behavior hasn’t landed him many friends, but he soon learns he’s more important than even he realized. His crazy uncle, whom he was told not to talk to and who happens to share Norman’s powers, suddenly dies. His spirit tells Norman that he must now keep an evil witch at bay. It’s approaching the 300 year anniversary since her death and he must read a book at her resting place before sundown or the dead will spring to life. Unfortunately, Norman is unsuccessful, so he’s forced to set out and correct his blunder.

ParaNorman feels like something “The Simpsons” writers would make if they went a bit darker and tried to tackle horror. It’s fearless, imaginative and incredibly clever. It has plenty of throwaway gags that are surprisingly effective if you catch them, including one billboard gag exclaiming that the local school would be hosting the “Spelling Bee next Wensday.” It’s moments like these that highlight how the filmmakers left no stone unturned. They packed as much as they could into a short 93 minute runtime and somehow pulled it off seamlessly. Gags like that are usually followed by a dramatic or scary scene, but the tone never falters. It never feels inconsistent, like they needed to pick one and stick to it. They take everything that’s great about laughing and crying and being scared and throw it together to form a magical piece of entertainment.

The fact that the animation is smooth and pretty should go without saying; it’s the film’s smarts that surprise the most. It references and spoofs a number of other horror movies, including Halloween, Friday the 13th and those classic Hammer horror films. The opening, in particular, is wonderfully reminiscent of a horror film double feature many would find playing at their local theaters back in the 70’s. It’s a love letter to the genre itself and the unique experience that genre delivers, and it continues this admiration throughout. It creates a voice of its own with a downright wonderful story that concludes in an incredible fashion that manages to be terrifying, sad and beautiful all in one sweep, but it never loses its respect for the genre it obviously endears.

In a strange way, ParaNorman is even a bit profound, finding an odd peace in death, though it’s not quite as involving as this year’s wonderful Studio Ghibli film, The Secret World of Arrietty, where the possibility of life after death was treated less factually, but it nevertheless remains interesting. In the movie, the characters must face their fears, so it’s only appropriate it doesn’t shy away from the reality of death, everyone’s biggest fear. By the time the end rolls around and Norman faces an enemy that is far different than what many will expect, the film has taken on a whole new meaning. ParaNorman wears many faces, both thematically and narratively, but they all combine to create something truly special.

ParaNorman receives 4.5/5

Friday
Aug192011

Fright Night

In regards to remakes, bashing Hollywood has become the cool thing to do. I don’t mean to be preachy (because I’ve done a fair share of it myself), but in reality, remakes aren’t nearly as common as original films. It’s a common misperception because it feels like they are (and even so called original films are redundant of each other). Case in point: in the last three days, I’ve sat through three separate remakes: Conan the Barbarian, next week’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and now Fright Night. It’s getting a bit wearisome, to be sure, but this new Fright Night is solid. It’s a faithful reboot of the 1985 original that simultaneously does enough to stand on its own.

Anton Yelchin plays Charley, a normal high school kid who is caught up in a relationship with his girlfriend, Amy, played by Imogen Poots. He’s trying to fit in, which has caused him to neglect Ed, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, his nerdy former best friend. But when Ed accuses Charley’s next door neighbor, Jerry, played by Colin Farrell, of being a vampire, he has no choice but to listen. Before he knows it, Jerry is after him and Amy and he realizes he won’t be able to peacefully rest until Jerry is dead.

The original 80’s Fright Night is a good, not great, film that used its campiness and humor to charm. It had a creepy moment or two, but it wasn’t scary. It was just plain fun. The remake, similarly, is a good, not great, film, that retains the original’s humor, but dials down the camp and attempts (without succeeding) to ratchet up the scares. For what it’s worth, one film is no better or worse than the other. They both do what they do and they do it well without ever truly impressing.

Neither manage to impress because both films hit insurmountable narrative flaws that hamper the experience. While it could be argued the original is a tad too slow for its own good, the pace of the remake is decidedly too rapid. The film does a masterful job of establishing a battle of wits between Jerry and Charley, the latter the only person aware of Jerry’s true self and the former using psychological scare tactics to keep Charley subdued. Just when this intriguing set-up is about to play out, however, it goes overboard. Jerry blows up Charley’s house and goes on a statewide hunt to kill him. It becomes a case of too much, too soon. Rather than take the calm and patient (and, ultimately, better) route of the original, it goes to extreme measures to please a cinematic society that favors fast action over calculated storytelling.

Where it betters the original is in its casting of the villain. Colin Farrell is wonderfully evil as Jerry and he brings a type of menace that was missing from Chris Sarandon’s performance 25 years ago. The problem is that the script doesn’t allow him to shine (again, a problem stemming from the much too quick pace). He’s most effective when things are quiet, so when the movie decides to go berserk at about its halfway point, his commendable creepiness is rendered moot. Those around him do a good job of picking up the slack in the screenplay, however. Yelchin is a great nemesis for Farrell and he produces authentic chemistry with Poots, though that’s probably more in part to Poots’ natural beauty and charisma than anything else. Likewise, Mintz-Plasse does his best to keep the comedy coming and mostly succeeds, though, like most of his attempts since Superbad, he’s hit and miss.

Keeping with the recent trend, Fright Night is in 3D and, yet again, it’s an unnecessary aesthetic. Because this is a horror movie that takes place mostly at night, the dim picture is sometimes hard to see and there is rampant double vision. Despite a few effective moments, the 3D here is unpleasing to the eye. Even movies that are shot in 3D, as opposed to post-production conversions, have done little to persuade me that the effect is necessary, including this one. But 3D or not, Fright Night works and proves itself as one of the most purely enjoyable movies to be released this summer.

Fright Night receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jun042010

Marmaduke

Live action talking animal movies are the lowest form of cinema. Watching one is like taking a really sharp, rusty needle and twisting it in your eye until it pops. They kill brain cells, dilute imaginations and corrupt our youth with their infantile humor, yet they're pumped out constantly. Compared to garbage like G-Force or the more recent Furry Vengeance, I suppose Marmaduke is okay, but that’s like saying breaking a finger is better than breaking a hand. It's painful either way.

Based on the long running, unfunny comic strip, the films follows Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) as he and his family move from Kansas to California. His owner Phil (Lee Pace) has landed a great job, which forces his family to move, much to their chagrin. While at a doggy park one day, Marmaduke learns what it will take to survive on the west coast thanks to a trio of dogs named Mazie (voiced by Emma Stone), Raisin (voiced by Steve Coogan) and Giuseppe (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who take him in as one of their own. He is told to stay away from Bosco (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), the alpha dog of the park, but he has an eye for his girlfriend Jezebel (voiced by Fergie) and sets out to prove himself as a leader.

There’s a scene in this movie, one of the earliest in fact, where Marmaduke is in bed with Phil and his wife. He is giving her the good news about his job and they start to romantically kiss. Marmaduke then passes gas, looks directly at the camera and says, “I know it’s juvenile, but it’s all I’ve got.” Never before has a movie so accurately described itself. It has nothing of note but a relentless barrage of jokes that only a child of single digit age could laugh at.

Those jokes not disgusting are simply eye rollers with visual gags that are about as funny as a dog on a surfboard. Oh wait, that’s actually in this movie and the result is as idiotic as you’d imagine. Phil’s new job tasks him with putting doggy product on retail shelves and his plan to promote it is to have a dog surf-off, pitting Marmaduke against Bosco in head to head wave shredding. The CGI that follows takes big old Duke and tosses him into the barrel of the wave where he overcomes his fear, busts through and flies sky high winning him first prize and putting Bosco in his place.

It’s hard to top something as idiotic as that, but this film’s idiocy knows no bounds. Once all the dogs stood up on their hind legs and started dancing on a pseudo Dance Dance Revolution arcade game, I was ready to dance my way out the door. Then when you tack on ridiculous canine phrases like "a new leash on life" and plays on words like "bone-illionaire," it becomes clear the filmmakers have zero ambition for their project.

The very few laughs this picture provides rest solely on Christopher Mintz-Plasse who actually sounds enthusiastic about being in such a lowbrow movie and at least fakes like he cares. He comes across well and, although his voice is easily recognizable, he saved the picture from being terrible.

Of course, being only relatively terrible is hardly a ringing endorsement. I suppose Marmaduke is harmless. It’s brainless and appeals to the lowest common denominator, but there’s nothing truly objectionable here and there will be those who like it. For them, I am happy. As for my experience with it, I was not.

Marmaduke receives 1.5/5

Friday
Apr162010

Kick Ass

Here we are. The movie that will have comic book lovers the world over joining in a collective nerdgasm. Kick Ass, the popular novel from the mind behind Wanted, is hitting the big screen and the geeks of the world are more eager to see it than a sex tape between Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba. I'm one of those geeks. After reading the comics it is based on (which a friend so graciously lent to me), I was hyped for the movie. The comic was amazing; well written, well drawn, violent, hilarious and fun. It was everything I wanted a comic book called Kick Ass to be. The movie, while still a rollicking good time, lacks the wit and style of its source material.

The movie follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a mild mannered high school outcast. He and his friends, played by Clark Duke and Evan Peters, are comic book nerds. Like many similar to them, they dream of fighting crime in extravagant outfits, leaping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of an evildoer, standing up for justice and integrity in a world spiraling to hell. The difference is that Dave takes that to heart. He's sick of being a nobody. He's an outcast, a guy who can't get a girlfriend to save his life, much less his crush Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), so he decides to strap on a scuba suit he buys online and attempt to make his city a better place through his new persona, Kick Ass. But this is the real world, not a comic book, and he soon finds himself lying in the middle of the road beaten, bloody and bruised with a knife wound to the stomach. After his recovery, and despite his better judgment, he returns to the streets where he meets Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a father/daughter superhero team who have been working their ranks through the local mafia, eliminating them all in the hopes of eventually getting to the head honcho, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). In fear of these superheroes, Frank enlists the help of his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a fellow comic book nerd, to disguise himself as a new hero, Red Mist, and lure the trio into a trap where he can finish them off once and for all.

I'm no comic book connoisseur, I admit. I couldn't tell you why one works and another one doesn't. I'm not aware of the inner workings that go into the construction of one of these tales. All I can tell you is how I perceive it and I loved the Kick Ass comic book. I couldn't put it down. I loved the gruesome violence, the spot on humor and the interesting narrative. I hoped for the movie to excite me in the same ways and it did, but not as consistently.

For what I assume are practical purposes, the violence isn't nearly as abundant, the humor is hit and miss and the interesting narrative from the comic is changed enough that it didn't hold the same appeal. I found more emotional connection between drawings on a page than I did the live action film.

Although some of the humor is forced, it can be funny, but that's why I didn't care. It doesn't do a good job of balancing its comedy with its more dramatic moments and when a major character bit the dust, I could only stare blankly at the screen wondering if I was supposed feel something. Consider the fact that jokes aren't only thrown in before and after this scene, but during it and you start to wonder why the filmmakers tried to create any drama at all.

Besides, it's called Kick Ass. Just as nobody watched Zombie Strippers for the choreography, nobody will watch Kick Ass for the drama. Luckily, the action scenes are top notch. They're wild, crazy, over the top and damn fun. Though toned down from the comic, this things gets bloody and watching an 11 year old girl do most of the killing makes things even crazier.

At times, the film gives off a Scream type of vibe by parodying the genre it is portraying. But whereas Scream was steady in its self-spoof, Kick Ass fluctuates. It's amusingly self-deprecating at first, but then drops that angle only to pick it up again later, and so on. It's smart at times, but it's not consistent and you'll quickly see how jumbled it can be.

But you know what? This is still a great time at the movies. Nicolas Cage gives his best performance in years and had me laughing all the way down to my toes, Chloe Moretz is brilliant as the adorable little girl that can put a bullet through your head before you even realize she's packing and its excessive nature is a welcome treat in a cinema world that is getting increasingly picked on by past generation curmudgeons who are intent on finding something they can complain about. Kick Ass looks at those people and flips them the bird, welcoming their hatred.

I like that.

Kick Ass receives 3.5/5