Monday, April 19, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor,Then Kick his Ass(Kick-Ass 2010 Review)

Call it the price of a questioning nature...

As initially mentioned, with roomie in tow, we ventured deep into Beverly Hills of all places to delve into edu-cultural hot spot known only as the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum Of Tolerance. Within the copper-colored walls of the structure were reminders of man's simplest tendency to fear & judge based solely upon first impressions. We are not merely given the guided tour, but are also allowed to wander the darkened halls rife with multimedia screens featuring fascinating insights into mankind's greatest folly, as well as the efforts of those who seek higher roads to understand their fellows. It was both an invigorating refresher course on many of my own personal journeys toward mutual understanding, as well as an interesting study of how things alter with time. As much as I find places like this to be necessary in an age of splintering social revolution, it is also important to consider the very nature of second-hand morality. Perhaps it is merely me, but I become skeptical when faced with a video screen sharing notions of oversimplified rights and wrongs featuring the words of men like Hitler & Stalin. Which isn't to say that the acts of many of the world's greatest tyrants weren't monstrous, but rather than history should also be open to the possibility that as the saying goes, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

To sit down at a table in a video room can be an interesting example of what I'd like to call "controlled conditioning", something I'd never considered when discussing this place. At tables, seating in groups of six with voting buttons at your command when asked questions by the woman's voice emanating from the video screen concerning our thoughts on certain matters displayed on video made for an interesting observation. The most prominent that comes to mind when being asked about our thoughts on the many methods of child exploitation in the world today.

We were given four buttons with which to vote with, lettered A - D. Naturally, whatever we voted for would be calculated, and then played back via the screen. When first asked about how many children do we think are sold into slavery every year, the numbers voted for were nearly unanimous. Over 300,000 was apparently correct. But what troubled me was when I'd make my selection, another button on the panel would glow in approval.

Needless to say, I was suspicious. But what did I know? It wasn't as if I knew exactly how these devices worked anyway.

It didn't feel quite so suspicious upon entering what was called "Point Of View Diner" Which was literaly designed like a cross between the soda shop in Back To The Future, and some kind of digital learning facility complete with touch screen renditions of Diner Table Jukebox Selectors. With each attendee, we were privy to the following video which gave us an interesting dilemma done in the style of a local news report...

Prom Night ends horribly when a car carrying high school football star "Chris", and his date, "Melanie". Chris is declared dead at the scene while Melanie ends up with her legs trapped in the vehicle. Worse yet is the younger victim in a car they had collided with, landing 12 year-old, "Danielle" in critical condition. When Chris's mother naturally declares on camera that her son should not be dead, and was an upstanding, model student, which we soon discover isn't true. In fact, Chris has had a history of drinking, and has even shown up to class representation under the influence. Compounding matters is the inevitable death of little Danielle, and the bombshell that a local liquor store , with a history of lenient policies on teenage drinking had possibly sold the fatal rounds to Chris, leading to his mother's onslaught of lawsuits.

Which is what leads us to our central dilemma....To vote in order of responsibility for this tragedy.

The Options:

a) Chris

b) Melanie

c) Chris' Mother

d) The Liquor Store

After a 30 second wait, these were the initial results on a scale of 1 - 4 (1 being most responsible)


3.Chris' Mother


1. The Liquor Store

Okay....I'm not so sure about anyone else, but I can't help but see this as pretty telling...

Which leads me into all the furor over Matthew Vaughn's taboo-bursting adaptation of Mark Millar & John Romita's ode to costumed anti-heroes , Kick-Ass. As certain critics and folks were inevitably going to raise their pitchforks in protest over the over-the-top violence displayed by not only a fifteen-year-old wannabe superhero, but by a scene stealing, hard-cussing 11 year old junior vigilante with a penchant for blades. It's just one of those things that many of us have always known as anathema to Hollywood. We knew from the moment there was talk of this being made into a film, that noone in town would give this script five pages upon this discovery. It's the kiss of death for your pitch. And yet, there have been instances of this taboo broken in films done outside of Hollywood that have indeed been successful. (Battle Royale, anyone?) Which isn't to say that this can't be seen as morally bankrupt to many. It is something that has long remained a final frontier for genre film, so naturally it took some pretty dedicated collaboration, and outside financing to make this unlikely film a rousing reality. And while it isn't something that even James Cameron would consider, Kick-Ass is here to stay, and has a vital place in the canon of L'Enfante terrible cinema. It is the movie equivalent of good, trashy punk shows; rife with defiance, questionable ideas, and an all out dangling wang in the face of mainstream society.

Which isn't to say that it is in any way a great film, but rather a devilishly entertaining dance with anarchy, with no brakes & even less humanity.

Kick-Ass follows the misadventures of fifteen-year-old Dave Lizewski(Aaron Johnson), as he goes from invisible loser to media phenom when he takes the crazy idea of becoming a homemade superhero to absurd heights. Brutal injuries, and a growing online reputation later, he stumbles across the truly dangerous father/daughter duo of professionals, Big Daddy(Nicolas Cage) & Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) as they crusade against New York's vicious underworld kingpin, Frank D'amico (Mark Strong). Starting from atypical comic-loving dweeb, to this is no doubt a jarring shift to this boy's life. His previously nonexistent love life is soon thrown for a loop when his school crush begins seeking interest (under misunderstanding that he's apparently a homosexual). The boy's dive into the seedy world of vigilante justice & online heroism reaches an apex when the actions of BD & HG raise the attention of D'amico's brutal crime syndicate. And as imagined by the trailers, what follows is a frenetic, bloody, and irresponsible barrage of film rivaling anything from the salad says of Lloyd Kaufman.

And yet, this is where the film goes from unexpected sleeper success story, to another rote case in going through the motions. My ultimate problems with the film are when Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn's script never finds that raw balance that is so necessary for a film this rebellious to truly work beyond its time. And while many of the performances are in fact quite fun (Cage's Adam West-esque pausing are hysterical retribution for years of terribly routine roles), it is the audaciously charming performance of Moretz that devours much of the film. And a 50 million dollar price-tag never conceals the fact that the film feels like a more exploitative take on the superhero film instead of a subversive one. Actions are never as impactful, nor as sharp as they could be given the premise. We see damage, the hint of the psychological alongside the physical, and then *poof*, forgotten in favor of more middling comedy. And while it can be commended that much of Millar's original story is here in all it's wild glory, it never attempts to take it as far as movies can go. In an era where a PG-13 rated superhero film can raise the bar for literacy, acidic wit, and storytelling, Kick-Ass never feels as dangerous as it should.

And yes, I said it should have gone further. Because much like bungee-jumping, dieting, or even drinking, we are a culture based upon challenge. We thrive upon seeking the untouched. And even as kids, it can be said that the contemporary has a yen for the forbidden. This is inherent in the young despite what so many adults would rather have us believe. And no amount of self-blinding is going to undo this. Art,..yes..even trashy art has value in the human experience. There's little to preserve but common sense in a world that is ever changing. At best, Kick-Ass is an alcohol-soaked litmus test for the angry child in all of us, and at worst, an indulgence best served with less sugar & more gray matter.

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