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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Kick-Ass 2; Kick-Ass (DVD)

KICK-ASS 2 (Two Stars)

U. S. Jeff Wadlow, 2013

hit_girl_kick_ass_2_movie-wide“I hate  reboots.“   That’s the pithy slogan emblazoned across a t-shirt worn in Kick-Ass 2. and it’s a fitting  piece  of self-analysis.. Kick-Ass 2 is an unnecessary reboot if  there ever was one, the kind of movie that gives sequels a bad name — an overblown comic-booky would-be juggernaut that  blows up in our faces and makes the whole idea of sequels begin to seem a little barfy. This  unamusing, gross, carnage-happy  picture takes what was a fairly entertaining and original movie, the 2010 superhero satire Kick-Ass, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and turns it into the kind of  overproduced unfunny show that Iron Man 2 became — though, almost paradoxically Kick-Ass 2 may boost the directorial reputation of its producer Matthew Vaughn, since he directed (and co-wrote) the original, but not this one, and therefore can’t be blamed for a lot of it — even though he did the hiring..

The director who can be blamed — doubly so, because he wrote the screenplay as well — is Jeff Wadlow, whose previous directorial efforts (Cry Wolf and  Never Back Down) I’ve missed, maybe luckily. Wadlow takes the original premise, plus something from the comic books (by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.)  as well as much of the original cast (minus Nic Cage whose Big Daddy met his maker in Kick-Ass One) and the original tech team, and then tries to make everything bigger crazier, wilder, more jam-packed with violence and weirdnesses (but not sadly, with more, or as many, or even it seems a tenth as many. good jokes or nifty ideas), What results is mostly a grab-bag of  anti-clichés and keen notions gone rotten, an almost incoherent carnival slaughterhouse of a movie, that tends to curdle our better memories of the first.

Back in 2010, that movie, the very first Kick-Ass, was a real surprise; a funny, foul-mouthed, ultra-violent super-hero comedy-action movie whose stars were a geeky high schooler who wanted to be a superhero (Aaron Johnson — as he was known then — playing David Lizewski a.k.a. Kick Ass) and a tough-a-cookie-as-you-get 11 year-old real super-heroine (Chloe Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready a,k,a. Hit Girl), plus Nicolas Cage as Mindy’s crime-busting Big Daddy. Pitted against them are the street punk to Godfatherish criminal element of Manhattan, including at the top, the Mafioso D’Amico family and their spoiled-rotten scion (Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D’Amico a.k.a. Red Mist).

The idea behind the movie was funny  and even a little thoughtful. What happens if a comic book fan tries to become a super-hero in real life, or what passes for real life in this kind of movie? And what happens if a real super-duper crime-fighter is a bad-talking 11–year-old girl? And, on the way to the wrap-up, and later on the way to this dumb-ass reboot, Kick-Ass became e a kind of cultural icon for his fellow Big Apple geeks and geekesses.

Numero Uno Kick-Ass was crudely amusing; Numero Due is unamusingly crude, and  sometimes witlessly gross. I remember both laughing and cringing at Kick-Ass, though the laughs were in the ascendancy.. Now, in the sequel, the cringes  seem almost double, triple or more,  the guffaws.

There are interweaving cringe-inducing storylines: Kick-Ass himself, rebuffed by Hit Girl when he proposes they team up nd become a dynamic duo, instead joins another free-lance crime-busting club, called Justice Forever. It contains about seven masked marvels, all inspired by Kick-Ass, including Jim Carrey, plus prosthetic chin (which makes him look a bit like that classic Russ Meyer actor, Charles Napier), as Captain Stars and Stripes, and Lindy Booth as the spider-womanish Night Bitch. And they all have a showdown with Mintz-Plasse who has rebooted himself as the now unprintable M—-rf——r, and surrounded himself with super villains, including a gent called Black Death (Daniel Kaluuya), and the formidable bodybuilder Mother Russia (played by Olga Kurkulinski), resulting in scenes of mass bloodshed and loud clangs.

The second storyline (as if all that wasn’t enough) follows Hit Girl — who has abandoned her crime-fighting career at the behest of her legal guardian Detective Marcus Williams (a cop who, oddly, tries to discourage her crime-busting). Instead, Hit Girl/Mindy undergoes a reboot of typical middle school girl anxieties at the hands of the local mean girl bullies, led by  the outrageously vain and nasty Brooke (Claudia Lee). I feel no guilt  informing you that the come-uppance in this plot-strand involves a magic wand that induces projectile barfing and projectile shitting and other projectile tomfoolery, all accomplished with the best sick special effects money can buy.

These two storylines proceed with unusual goriness and grossness to their predictable intersecting projectile conclusions and to their inevitable moral, which I guess was “Crime Does Not Pay,” or maybe “Don’t projectile vomit in the school cafeteria,” or maybe “Down with reboots.”.

As in the first movie, Chloe Grace Morets, is the most beguiling of the actors — though the best performances are by John Leguizamo as Chris’s  henchman/servant Javier and Carrey as the unrecognizable Captain. It might be mentioned, or re-mentioned, that Carrey has been critical of the movie’s extreme violence.  In the case of Number Two, he‘s right. So is the t-shirt.



KICK-ASS (Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Three Stars) U.S.; Matthew Vaughn, 2010 (Lionsgate)

Kick-Ass is a movie made from a comic book about a wish-fulfilling teen geek who plays at being a super-hero named Kick-Ass, and then runs into some real heroes (including a wildly talented purple-haired 11-year-old nicknamed Hit Girl, and her death-dealing pa, Big Daddy) and some real villains (including a vicious mob boss and his spoiled-rotten son). Though it may sound as if the Farrelly Brothers or Judd Apatow wannabes had taken over the latest  action-comic picture epic, it’s better than we might have expected: at its best,  expertly done and full of snazzy, kick-ass, wish-fulfilling fun.

Director Matthew Vaughn, Guy Richie‘s ex-producer (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and helmer of the British neo-noir Layer Cake, shows the same mix of slam-bang action and a genial light touch that director Jon Favreau brought to Iron Man. Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman (adapting the comic by Mark Millar), know what their  basic audience wants to see. But they also know what audiences not usually attracted to this kind of movie may want to see as well: something witty and light and self-kidding, with the humor counter-balancing the carnage.

Of course, the carnage needs to be counter-balanced. Kick-Ass is funny. But it’s also so violent, and sometimes so convincingly bloody and savage, in its half-comic over-the-top action scenes — which include the kind of one-against-a-bunch climactic wholesale slaughter-fest usually administered by a Bruce Lee or a Sonny Chiba, but here dealt out by that 11-year-old girl —  that, at times, this movie becomes genuinely disturbing. (Parents should heed that “R” rating, which mentions “strong brutal violence, pervasive language, sexual content and nudity.”) Still, I can’t go along with the stern or skittish condemnations the show has aroused in some. That wounding violence, especially in a revenge fantasy, strikes me as not necessarily such a negative thing. Movie violence often should be more disturbing, should  have consequences.

Revenge fantasies are popular partly because they blow way our frustrations, and because the real world actually is full of bad guys and gang-bangers who really do hurt people. Crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), and his squad of torpedoes led by WiseGuy Big Joe (Michael Rispoli), are heavies with a touch of real-life viciousness (or at least reality filtered through other mob movies and TV shows) — and when some of those heavies go down like video-game targets, it’s hard to mind, especially when the vanquishing kick-asses are a nerd in a super-hero suit and a little girl with purple hair and lots of energy. Kick-Ass pushes our movie paradigms and clichés of violence and worm-turning to extremes, and whether you laugh at it, or go “Tsk-tsk,” probably depends on your own frustration-level. It made me laugh and sometimes cringe.

Extras: Commentary with Matthew Vaughn; Documentary; Featurettes; Live Menu System.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon