Archive for August, 2013

Kick Ass 2

Posted: August 27, 2013 in Film reviews
Tags: ,

Directed by Jeff Wadlow. Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Moretz

In 2010 Kick Ass exploded onto our screens, controversial, violent and very funny…it also introduced us to Hit Girl, played by then 13 year old Chloë Moretz, and in fact much of the controversy revolved around her character, and the fact that she A/killed a whole bunch of people, and B/Said an awful lot of very naughty words.

Three years later and the sequel makes its way onto our cinema screens, but does Kick Ass 2 kick ass, or barely provide a mild spanking…

Its several years after the end of the first film and Dave (Kick Ass—Taylor-Johnson just about pulling off playing a character about 6/7 years younger than himself) has retired from crime fighting. He’s bored though, so enlists the help of Mindy (Hit Girl) to train him up and become his partner, and pretty soon Kick Ass is back in action…and much like the first film back getting his ass often kicked.

Mindy meanwhile is living a double life, since her dad’s death she’s become the ward of one of her father’s cop buddies Marcus. Marcus thinks Mindy’s going to school like a normal teenage girl…Mindy is actually cutting classes so she can cut through crime as Hit Girl.

Eventually Marcus catches on to what Mindy’s really up to, and uses emotional blackmail to make her quit being Hit Girl. Alone once more Dave searches the internet and makes contact with a team of DIY superheroes led by the tough, yet prudish, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). The team includes, amongst others, Doctor Gravity (Scrub’s Donald Faison) who isn’t really a doctor and can’t really control gravity, Insect Man, Battle Guy and Night Bitch.

Whilst Kick Ass and his superfriends start making a dent in the city’s underworld, Mindy has a different fight on her hands, against bitchy teenage girls as she tries to fit in as a normal 15 year old.

But when Mintz-Plasse (Red Mist in the first film) reinvents himself as the super villain; The Mother F-cough-er and starts building an army of evil henchmen as part of a plan to take down Kick Ass, things get far too real for the DIY superheroes.

Sequels are tricky, especially superhero sequels, do you go for more of the same, or something radically different? There are positives and pitfalls in both approaches, and Kick Ass 2 tries to straddle the line. On the one hand it takes the premise of the original, what if ordinary people just started dressing up as super heroes, and widens the scope to create an Avengers like team, but on the other hand it tries something different by stripping Mindy of her Hit Girl persona for much of the film, giving her a very different battle to fight.

On the whole I think the film manages to succeed, repeating a lot of what made the first film enjoyable, whilst adding something new.

Probably the best thing about it is Moretz, convincing both as a ludicrously dangerous superhero and as a fragile young girl trying to fit in. she’s run a close second by Christopher Mintz-Plasse who’s funny, somewhat disturbing, and even, on occasion, tragic. Taylor-Johnson has his moments, though he really is getting too old to play the high school student now.

What the film does lack is anything as wonderfully surreal as Nicholas Cage’s Adam West inspired Big Daddy, but then something like that would be hard to replicate. Carrey’s Colonel Stars and Stripes could have ended up trying to fill the void, but the role isn’t written or directed that way, and Carrey thankfully doesn’t go all Riddler on us.

On the villain front, aside from The Mother F-cough-er it’s only Mother Russia (played by body builder Olga Kurkulina) who stands out, destroying a whole army of cops singlehandedly, and her fight with Hit Girl is a superhero fight at its best.

Controversy wise Kick Ass 2 offers more of the same, ultra violence and a lot of swearing, and I suspect Colonel Stars and Stripes’ downer on bad language and Marcus’ swear jar for Mindy are non-too subtle swipes at many of the complaints about the first film. I can’t help feeling that Kick Ass 2 is less contentious than its predecessor. Certainly the first film, much as I enjoyed it, made me feel a little uncomfortable in places. In many respects this might simply be down to Moretz being older, so seeing her act and swear as she did in the first film doesn’t quite come across as shocking as it once did.

If the film has problems it’s in its tone, and in what it’s trying to say. Tonally balancing funny with violent is a hard trick to pull off, and the film doesn’t always manage it, and as for the message, it seems confused about this. It seems to be saying wearing a mask is dangerous, that this is real life not a comic book, whilst also lionising those who strap on the lycra and embroiling them in situations right out of a comic book.

But in the end I laughed a lot, I winced a bit, I was on the edge of my seat on occasion, and I silently cheered more than a few times (and almost out loud when Hit Girl announced “Game on, cocksuckers!”) and I’m not sure what else you can expect from a film featuring characters called Kick Ass and The Mother F-cough-er.

It isn’t big, it isn’t clever, but it is enjoyable.

Advertisements

This will be a short series of brief complaints about the things writers do that P*** me off. Please note, this is just a bit of fun, and yes I am a hypocrite because many of the things I’ll complain about I may well have done myself, or may do in the future!

So, what hacks me off today is…writers who describe characters as looking like famous people.

Yup, that’s right. It always gets my goat when I read something along the lines of; “John was a handsome fellow, he looked a bit like Tom Cruise.” It’s laziness. It’s a case of not being arsed to actually describe what a character looks like, so you’re going to just use shorthand, ‘cos everyone knows what Tom Cruise looks like, right?

Of course, get successful enough and it can backfire on you. Dan Brown’s character Robert Langdon looks like Harrison Ford. He must have been miffed when they cast Tom Hanks in the films…

And also it relies on people knowing what the famous person looks like, and over time this may not always be the case. Want an example? Ian Fleming suggests James Bond looks like Hoagy Carmichael…yes I had to Google pictures of him as well…

Even one of my favourite authors, James Herbert, has fallen into the trap. For the most part he describes his characters vaguely enough that they could be anyone, but in Creed it’s made plain that Joe Creed looks like Mickey Roarke (thankfully Mickey Roarke circa 1990 not Mickey Roarke circa 2013, although to anyone who’s read the book there’s a certain irony given Roarke has ended up looking like he might fit in at the old people’s home where the book’s finale takes place). Of course if Creed had ever made it to the screen it’s doubtful they could have got Roarke, in fact the man who was, back in the day, exceptionally interested in helping bring the novel to life (and playing the eponymous hero) was actually Lenny Henry!

Of course the truth is that writers often base their characters on famous people, I know I do. In fact I can tell you right now that the lead characters in the novel I’m currently writing are (in my head) Cillian Murphy and Emilia Fox, and one of the bad guys is Idris Elba. However, at no point in the book are they (or any other characters) described as looking like their famous counterparts, even if how they look dictated how I described them.

So if your lead does look like Tom Cruise, why not just say he had all American good looks, perfect teeth and twinkling blue eyes—oh yes, and he wasn’t the tallest of guys either— rather than just lazily say he looked like Tom Cruise. People will probably figure it out anyway, but even so at least in their heads he might not quite look like Ethan Hunt…

Use Enough Gun

Posted: August 11, 2013 in Published fiction
Tags: , ,

I’ve recently had a story published in the anthology Use Enough Gun, which is available to buy in both paperback and Kindle format from Amazon via the following link.

use


Monster hunting tales are as old as mankind, and the popular Legends of the Monster Hunter series has offered some of the best monster hunting tales ever told! Use Enough Gun is the third in this series and brings an exciting edge to the collection by exploring what happens when monster hunting goes wrong! Stalk vampires, werewolves and other creatures of legend…but do not expect the hunter to always triumph. Sometimes they miss their target, and sometimes their target gets them!

Featuring “Weapon of Choice” by Paul Starkey

The World’s End

Posted: August 8, 2013 in Film reviews
Tags: , ,

Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Somehow, in amongst all the Hollywood Mission Impossibles and Star Treks, Simon Pegg has finally found time to write and star in the third of the eponymous Cornetto trilogy that began in 2004 with the Zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead, and continued in 2007 with the buddy cop thriller spoof Hot Fuzz.

As with the previous films, Edgar Wright directs (and also co-script) and Pegg’s best mate/former flat mate Nick Frost is on hand to play the sidekick once more.

In 1992 a group of teenage boys finished school and embarked upon a pub crawl of epic proportions; the eponymous Golden Mile which encompassed 12 pubs, culminating in the titular ‘The World’s End’. They singularly failed to make it to the end of the crawl, but in the present day the group’s leader Gary (Pegg) King brings the boys back together to try and recapture their youth and finally make it to The World’s End.

The trouble is, whilst Gary hasn’t moved on with his life, his friends have. Andy (Frost) is now a lawyer, Steven (Paddy Considine) now owns a building company, O-Man (Martin Freeman) is an estate agent, and Peter (Eddie Marsden) is partner in a car showroom. As such none of them are that interested in getting hideously drunk, just so Gary can try and recapture what he sees as the last best night of his life.

Through various nefarious means, Gary convinces them to come with him, back to their old home town of Newton Haven, where they’re joined by Sam (Rosamund Pike) Oliver’s sister ( who Steve had a massive crush on but Gary slept with back in the day.) They imagine it’s going to be a long night…but what they don’t realise is that their home town has changed a bit since their day…and so have most of its inhabitants.

So, after giving us zombie protagonists in Sean of the Dead, followed by Middle Englander cultists in Hot Fuzz, Pegg, Frost and Wright now turn their attention to an enemy from outer space.

I was worried that familiarity might breed contempt, that this would be something of a self-congratulatory exercise for all concerned (and at least one joke in the trailer seemed to confirm this was just going to be a by the numbers best of Shaun/Fuzz. )

I needn’t have worried. Whilst there is something very familiar about the characters, dialogue and situations, rather than jarring this works to the films advantage. Like a well-worn paid of slippers I was incredibly comfortable from the opening seconds, pretty much right the way to the end.

That isn’t to say there isn’t originality on show here, for starters Pegg and Frost have, to an extent, switched roles from Shaun of the Dead, and this time it’s Pegg’s turn to play the obnoxious character, though whilst Gary isn’t especially likeable, he’s tragic (and occasionally heroic) enough that you can’t help rooting for him as the night goes increasingly to pot, especially once you realise why he’s suddenly so obsessed with the past. Frost in contrast gets to play a more grown up character than usual…well for the first half of the film at least, and he does a good job, he’s definitely evolved as an actor since he debuted in Spaced all those years ago.

Of the remainder of the group, only Considine is truly given anything meaty to sink his teeth into, although Marsden and Freeman get the odd moment they’re really here just to make up the numbers. Rounding off the cast are two Bond alumni (doubling the 007 input from Hot Fuzz) in former Bond girl Rosamund Pike (who sits neatly in my top five Bond girls list so, as you can imagine, I thought she was great in this) and former Bond Pierce Brosnan. Unfortunately the nature of Brosnan’s character is such that he’s slightly subdued, and isn’t able to throw himself into the part the way Timothy Dalton did in Hot Fuzz.

I laughed a lot through the film, many more times than Mark Kermode’s litmus test of 6 laughs to make a successful comedy, although it would be unfair to label this as just a comedy. Like I say there is some pathos in there, and whilst not exactly hard sci-fi, the otherworldly plot is intriguing enough with nods towards the Starbuckization of the British high-street.

This is a film to be enjoyed as a nostalgic exercise in some respects though, and worked on me on two fronts. Firstly there’s the familiarity of the old Spaced/Shaun/Fuzz crew back together again (and most people who’ve stared in Spaced and/or at least one of those films gets a cameo, although it’s shame Jessica Hynes wasn’t involved) but the other thing this evokes is a point in time which sits during my time at University, a particularly memorable point in my life, and the so the fashions, the music and the general attitudes strike a chord there as well.

I’d like to think a viewer could enjoy this even if it was the first Pegg/Wright film they’d seen. It’s well cast, witty and nicely paced. I think it only really loses its way in a couple of places. A few of the fight scenes become repetitive, and the ending seems far too eager to take the title literally.

It might be a case that familiarity breeds enjoyment, but I don’t care. I haven’t enjoyed a film this much all year, even if I do now have a craving for a marmalade sandwich…