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2 film reviews: Kick-Ass & Alice in Wonderland
Two movie reviews
KICK-ASS**+ (2 and a half stars)
KICK-ASS: It’s hard to say whether or not Kick-Ass is a good movie, since it’s actually two movies squeezed into one. It’s an awkward fit. Either movie on its own could be entertaining but combine it just becomes two puzzle pieces that don’t fit together.
The early part of the film, which we’ll call movie # 1, is a clever study of a bullied personality brought up on film and comic books, who insanely decides to become a super-hero but then quickly learns that reality is less kind than fantasy. Movie # 1 deals with Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a Peter Parker-like school nerd who is heavily put upon by bullies, unpopularity and the other little hells that high school inflicts. One day he asks “Why don’t real people become super-heroes?” And motivated by that dim bit of philosophy, he makes the desperate attempt at vindication and glory by putting on a scuba outfit and lurking the streets at night with the intention of fighting crime under the alias “Kick-Ass”.
The wimpy would-be vigilante soon realizes that the need to beat up wrong doers does not translate into the ability to do so. His freshmen effort ends with Kick-Ass getting an ass kicking. Proving resilient, if unable to learn a lesson, he tries again and receives his second beat down. But this time his ineffectual crime-fighting is caught on camera and put on Youtube, where Kick-Ass finds himself an overnight celebrity. Movie # 1 works as a comedic Taxi Driver, about a misguided mind who thinks being a hero will make his unhappy lot worth living.
And then we come to movie # 2, an over-the-top Tarantino style action film in the Grindhouse tradition. Movie # two features Nicolas Cage (Finally putting aside his genius-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown routine) as Damon Macready, a framed ex-cop out for vengeance against nefarious mob kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). Inspired by Kick-Ass, Damon becomes the costumed vigilante Big Daddy. And he has his own ready-made sidekick in his 11 year old daughter Mindy (Chloe Moretz) who becomes Hit-Girl. Trained from birth to fight gangsters, young Hit-Girl becomes a Punisher-like human killing machine, efficiently slaughtering gangsters with great glee and profane banter.
There is a serious disconnect between movie # 1 and movie # 2. Movie number one exists in the real world and points out the insanity of someone thinking they could put on a costume and actually fight crime and live to tell about it. It also makes a comment about our fame-starved culture where people are willing to go to any lengths to attain celebrity status as a means of finding meaning in life.
Movie # 2, however, exists firmly in the realm of comic books where even a child can put on a mask and easily defeat armies of gun-toting thugs. The successful villain-killing by Big Daddy and Hit-Girl completely contradicts the meaning and message of the Kick-Ass plot. While the graphic combat scenes of movie # 2 are sure to be a crowd pleaser for young action movie fans, they do not belong in the same film as the Kick-Ass plot.
Hit-Girl is the center of the controversy around this film. Many feel that seeing a little girl violently dispatch numerous people--and worse, she seems to be enjoying it--is a reprehensible message to send out to other young girls. Maybe it is, or maybe people are over-reacting to the film, but regardless, her presence and actions here are jarringly out-of-place in a movie that is ostensibly a satire on the ridiculousness of the concept of costumes crime fighters. Movie # 2 seems to expect us to cheer and applaud the child’s bloody handiwork, while movie # 1 asks us to laugh at the ludicrous concept of anyone in the real world trying to be Batman and Robin.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND **+ (2 and a half stars)
ALICE IN WONDERLAND: It doesn’t seem possible that combining the timeless Lewis Carroll classic with one of the most innovative filmmakers in the business could lead to something so sadly uninspired as this mediocre effort. Unfortunately, Tim Burton’s new “Alice in Wonderland” is a disconnected muddle of a movie.
Tim Burton has rightfully gained the reputation of being one of the most imaginative filmmakers in the industry. When he’s on his game, his produces works of genius (Ed Wood; Edward Scissorhands; Big Fish; Beetlejuice; A Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.) but when he is uninspired, he can concoct some real lemons (Mars Attacks, Planet of the Apes, Willie Wonka). There are definitely peaks and Valley’s in Burton’s work. I hate to say that “Alice in Wonderland” is a valley but it’s definitely a downward slope.
On the plus side, the movie is as visually brilliant as anything ever done. The sets, effects and CGI character designs are nothing short of brilliant. If you are deaf and not interested in the storyline, you’ll love his film. However, if you’re looking for something deeper, then you should check out one of Burton’s better features.
The film is a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s legendary tale. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now 19 and has forgotten her original trip to Wonderland, except in dreams. On the day of her engagement party to her incredibly oafish fiancée, Alice sees the white rabbit with the fob watch (Michael Sheen) once again and impulsively follows him down the rabbit hole. She returns to Wonderland—now called Underland—and has to go through every obstacle as if for the first time, because she still doesn’t recall the first trip. Throughout the bulk of the movie, Alice insists she is in a dream.
While Alice has been gone, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter)--Known as the Queen of Hearts in the original story--has exiled her sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to a rather comfortable looking castle on the outskirts of Underland and is running the show solo, using her fearsome Jabberwocky monster, her evil henchman Stayne (Crispin Glover) and her ‘off-with-his-head’ philosophy. The White Queen and the inhabitants of Underland have gotten hold of one of those plot convenient scrolls that tells the future. The scroll says that Alice will return and slay the Jabberwocky, so the rabbit has been sent to lure our fair haired heroine back. However, her lack of memory makes everyone doubt whether or not they have brought the right Alice back.
Alice resumes her travels in Wonderland/Underland, and meets the usual suspects again. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas); Absalom the blue caterpillar (Alan Rickman); the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry); the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor); the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp).
While Depp is one of the most versatile actors in the world today, his interpretation of the Mad Hatter is a bit too versatile. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with the character so he does everything! Since the Hatter supposed to be mad, Depp clearly feels no constraints about his ‘too-much-is-not-enough’ portrayal, and Burton gives him free reign here. Depp alternates from manic insanity to cunning charm to sad victim and everything in between. Even his voice constantly alters, from a Scots brogue to a fey lisp, among others.
One of the biggest flaws with the film is the epic ending. Why couldn’t Burton or writer Linda Woolverton think of a better conclusion than a big action sequence? The final moments are reminiscent of the conclusion to “the TwoTowers” or “Return of the King” or “the Chronicles of Narnia”, all of which ended with armies battling. Why would the peace loving White Queen (who chides one of her subjects for speaking too harshly to a tree) choose to solve Underland’s woes by sending her army into a bloody battle? Why does a pacifist even have an army? And why does Alice have to turn into Xena Warrior Princess to save Underland?
These and many other questions remain unanswered. For instance, how is it that the Red Queen identifies Alice from a drawing of her hair (“I’d recognize those golden locks anywhere”) but doesn’t recognize Alice when they are face-to-face? Don’t try to make sense out of it.
The Motion Capture effects which give the CGI characters the expressions of the actors are top notch, and Carter steals the show with her amusingly evil interpretation of the Red Queen, but overall, this movie has none of the magic that a movie about Wonderland should have. If you take away the incredible visuals, there is nothing left here but a tedious, uninteresting rehash of a legendary tale. Burton can do so much better than this.