Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix Theater

Kick-Ass (2010)
I always wanted to see a dark, R-rated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — Leo actually uses his weapons to efficiently separate goons from their arms and legs, Donatello's bo breaks bones and Raph's sais are as sharp as his attitude. Like the comic books that inspired the source material, Kick-Ass indulges in the blood that a superhero would actually let — weapons don't always hit a magical "off switch" on the back of the bad guy's heads like in most comic book film adaptations — they do mortal damage. Simply put: this is a surprisingly violent fucking movie, and despite how real the blood and guts are, it's still pure fantasy. Sometimes that blood lust can be a little disconcerting when the bodily harm is inflicted by a martially trained 11-year-old girl, giddily using the identity "Hit Girl." Her father (Nic Cage in full-ham mode) is "Big Daddy," a batman-with-guns vigilante out to settle the score with NY's biggest crime boss, who's son (Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse) happens to be another budding superhero and unlikely heir apparent to the crime throne.

Meanwhile, high school comic nerd Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) buys a green wetsuit, yellow gloves and two batons to become "Kick-Ass," an untrained superhero wannabe with more "naivety and optimism" than strength or cunning. But, after one merciless beat-down, he becomes an internet sensation via a cellphone video of him defending a victim against three muggers. That notoriety makes him the prime target for said NY crime boss, who confuses Kick-Ass's burgeoning celebrity for the real Mongolians in his system — Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Lizewski's voice-over narration provides both snarky meta-commentary on the genre, and insight into the film's other major plot points in the high school sex-comedy realm. Eventually, all the major player's plot lines cross paths, with hyper-bloody showdowns resulting. The action scenes are exceptionally well choreographed, especially Big Daddy's magnificent warehouse slaughter-fest, mostly taken in one long and graceful shot. Even Kick-Ass's more ridiculous moments work, thanks to the self-aware and often satirical tone, that still reveal a love and reverence for comic book tropes and lore. I'm looking forward to the sequel. B+

Transformers: Rise of the Fallen (2009)
Growing up, did you ever go to a new friend's house, only to discover that the entire family talks to each other like a bunch of a retarded 10-year-olds? Every comment/question/statement shared between family members is stated in an argumentative near-shout, with inane responses and grating tone of voice the apparent norm, where just asking to pass the salt is shouted like a toddler in need of a nap? Watching "Transformers: Rise of the Fallen" places the viewer in the same uncomfortable territory. I was climbing a mountain of the worst in American culture — the most crass, consumerist, oblivious and unfunny people in the world, all trapped together for an excruciating two-plus hours.
My Everest-like climb to finish the latest Transformers film ended like every Sherpa-less traveler up the mountain — nauseous, weak and defeated. After three attempts over two days to make it through the film — the first aided by beer, the second with ibuprofen to fend off the on-setting headache, and the third by wine — I failed. The awful, ugly spectacle that is Transformers 2 literally frustrated me to to the point of feeling ill. The domestic-life scenes counting for comedy, the unwatchable, epileptically edited action scenes, minstrel-show robots .... I quit ... it's so fucking shitty I can't even form full sentences. This movie makes me hate everything. F

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) 
This documentary explores the MPAA's irrational and puritanical ratings board. Filmmakers document the history of the board and then attempt to unmask its secret members whose identity is a tightly held secret. I'm not kidding, the faceless censors who arbitrarily tell filmmakers to cut what they feel is obscene from art hide behind a veil of anonymity so thick it's comical. The film drags at points when following the PIs hired for the task, but really excels when showing how the system is favored for Hollywood pictures, works against indies and is one of the more insidious censorship bodies in the country — from working for war propaganda — to how scared it is of homosexuality and other sexual equality issues. The most glaring is how terrified it is of women actually receiving pleasure in a sex scene (and not just the man) — one film was deemed obscene because, in a mostly clothed sex scene, the camera lingered on a woman's face too long as she reached climax. Also of note: the ratings board's Washington connections, founder and long-time president Jack Valenti was a political insider and consultant for years before heading to Hollywood to begin censoring. Every cinefile should watch this documentary. A-

Terminator Salvation (2009) 
Terminator: Salvation has a giant budget and the corresponding preference for big business over genre thrills. The latest and worst Terminator film blandly scrubs away any of the horror grime of the first film, the suspense of the second and the nihilism of the third, and trudges through the motions as an overly predictable and generic sci-fi action snoozer. How do you fuck up a movie where humans battle robots? Hire McG and whittle it down to a PG-13 rating. I miss the fucking the '80s. C-

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