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Wednesday, May 26, 2010


When you finish a movie and the person next to you exclaims, “…the fuck did I just watch?” it normally gives off a negative reaction toward the film. In my world, more often than not, it means it's truly liked. And like the loose language in the film itself those same words were uttered like a storm of applause when Kick-Ass ended.

When high-school nerd Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) wonders why no one will brave the tights of a superhero, he takes on the task himself. Unfortunately, he inadvertently gets involved with two vigilantes who can do the job better than he and a crime boss confused with their existence. Add some blood, fantastic one-liners and a jar full of irony and you have Kick-Ass.

If you’ve seen only the previews to Kick-Ass you know it’s a comedy. If you don’t know it’s a comedy, guess what? It is. Surprise. But what makes it work is everything it stands for. Kick-Ass asks why we love superheroes and why it’s a good idea and a terrible idea to be one. It answers these questions with a rush of reverence, idiocy and a rather unsettling look at propaganda.

Dave is not a superhero. He is a child in love with iconic fictional characters and what they stand for. He is so enamored by them he decides to become one in hopes of supporting their ideals. Alright. It’s time for another skit of Good Idea/Bad Idea. Good Idea: Standing up for the ideals that Superman and Batman do. The world knows these characters enough to agree with the reasons behind what they do. Furthermore, who doesn’t want to take a stand against evil and all that is wrong? Bad idea: The fictional characters of Batman and Superman have specific skills and powers that force audience members into suspending disbelief. Dressing up in a costume to literally fight crime results in Kick-Ass getting his ass kicked. And rest assured he spends more time having his name handed to him than living up to it. The outcome is hysterical. Love it.

But by far, the show stealer is Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), an eleven-year-old girl with a stronger skill set than Dave (by miles). Her father (Nic Cage) has brainwashed her into avenging her mother’s death by use of soccer moms’ biggest complaint against superheroes: The violence. Truthfully, her reasons behind being a "superhero" are no different than Batman’s or Spider-Man’s. The controversial part lies in her age. But something surprising happens with her. Instead of having her life ruined Hit Girl becomes responsible. She proves she has not become a mindless killer. Her mission is to avenge her mother and that’s it! Now you could argue she’s been programmed to do that and once the program is finished so is she, but that’s going too far. Plus, a lot of it is simply that it’s hysterical to watch an eleven-year-old girl annihilate the shit out of an army of crime pawns.

And thus we come to the to the final stretch of this amusing social commentary on superheroes and their legacy. I can talk about the film’s intricate meaning all day, but it only works with the action as a very powerful punctuation. Kick-Ass’s final foray into superhero-dom teamed with Hit Girl’s bloody vendetta splatters with a genius mesh of slapstick and action. It is everything you want to happen—Saying it delivers is an understatement. Sure a lot of the action is what takes the authenticity out of the film’s glaring satire. In fact the entire movie takes baby steps toward total absurdity as if it’s trying to trick the audience. There is no connection with reality by the end. But despite that rather muffled flaw the characters make it all work out. So is it funny? Absolutely, but it’s also something to mull over once finished. Recommended for a laugh. Also recommended for a look.

*** out of ****

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MUSIC REVIEW - Story of the Year - The Constant

As fine of a band as Story of the Year is they’ve hit plenty of highs and lows. With The Constant I’m starting to wonder if they have some Star Trek-esque odd/even curse. Their first and third albums were borderline masterpieces, while the sophomore effort was as uninspired as music gets. The Constant doesn’t sink to the low that In the Wake of Determination did, but it’ll have you running back to The Black Swan pretty quickly.

The album starts out well enough with “The Children Sing,” and “The Ghost of You and I,” which is one of the albums’ strongest songs. But would-be epics like “The Burial” come off as monotonous and the slower ballads like “Remember the Time” and “I’m Alive” are instantly forgettable.

And what is it with these bands trying to cash in on Anberlin’s “Feel Good Drag?” Like Atreyu’s “Bleeding is a Luxery,” off of Congregation of the Damned, the opening to “The Dream is Over” sounds suspiciously like Anberlin’s Joseph Milligan rolling in to the “Drag”. It’s also one of the best tracks on The Constant though, so I guess both SotY and Atreyu owe Anberlin a big thank you.

I’ll give a hand to “Holding on to You” as well. It sounds like a throwback to Page Avenue’s gorgeous ballads and it's a catchier piano effort than Black Swan’s "Terrified." Though it's a shame the album didn’t end with “Ten Years Down” or “Time Goes On.” While neither are particularly memorable songs, they would have been more appreciated closers than the messy “Eye for an Eye.” Then again the group has always struggled to end their records well.

Being one of my favorite bands I can hold a nice little place in my heart for some of these tracks. But I also know they can offer so much more. Even at it’s best The Constant isn’t particularly brilliant. It’s just another rock album. Maybe that’s what the record’s title is referring to though…

** out of ****

Monday, May 24, 2010

ANIME CORNER - Mobile Suit Gundam 00 - DVD Part 3

Well, dear God. Gundam has been many things over the years—Preachy, action packed, contrived, groundbreaking; but never has the series been so relevant as it is with Gundam 00. This comes with an emotional presence that I’ve rarely felt over the series’ thirty-year run of Universal Century, Wing and SEED.

Though I was initially turned off by the inclusion of the Trinity Gundams, their storyline twists in to a very unexpected conclusion. Furthermore, I have to thank those characters for throwing Celestial Being in to self-serving situations that reveal more background about these fantastic characters. Setsuna and Lockon discover a very unsettling bond that actually strengthens their friendship and tightens the Gundam meisters’ relationships as a whole.

The supporting characters never seem to float to the center of the meisters’ lives, but they maintain their relevance due to how the Gundam’s actions affect them. Saji Crossroad (a non-too subtle name for a person inadvertently crossing paths with Setsuna) loses everything he holds dear due to the Gundam’s interventions—Both by Team Trinity and Celestial Being. His storyline should be the most boring and non-crucial arc in the entire series. I have to give the writers props for getting me to care about him and his life. Saji is crucial because his trials represent the flaws behind the Gundam’s actions. He is not a soldier. He’s not a man who will surely seek revenge against the Gundams and become a pilot in a cliché move to be the next villain. He is a scared boy whose life was destroyed by a terrible string of world events and, like most people, he moves on. Never say, “it doesn’t concern me.”

On the flip side, Setsuna’s character reaches a half-hearted conclusion about his plan to fight fire with fire—It’s not assuredly strong, but it’s enough to keep the character going as we see some fan favorites get obliterated. A rather surprising swan song represents one of the best moments in the Gundam series and a demise for anime fans everywhere to remember. (I’m still cursing the sky over this one.)

Meanwhile, Team Trinity’s story is wrapped with much tragedy, escalating the battle against Celestial Being to new heights; placing adversaries in the perfect face-offs and closing the technological gap between Earth’s forces and the Gundam units. This is where the suspense begins to take center stage and the build-up is more than enough to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Suddenly the Gundams aren’t the god-like juggernauts we’ve seen and the meisters find themselves drawing the short end.

The final chapter to the season isn’t without faults though. Soma Peries, a supporting player I had initially despised, is showcased a great deal but doesn’t become the interesting character she should be until the show’s final moments. Oh, it's season 2 cliffhanger material for sure, but it would’ve been nice to pull that card earlier. The Trinity’s existence is somewhat glazed over. The pseudo-explanation was better than some of Lost’s attempts, but left a faint look of confusion on my face regardless.

Though nothing disappointed me more than Setsuna’s final showdown with Graham Aker. It’s as if the writers ran out of time and decided to slip in Graham’s vendetta at last minute. It was an unjust move for such a strong character, but at least the spouting of differences between him and Setsuna make for an interesting, though pretentious, commentary on the world.

It’s not without some glaring flaws and a lot of questions to answer in season 2, but season 1 of Gundam 00 ends with some intense action, gut-wrenching character closure and a promise that the next twenty-five episodes will be interesting indeed. Universal Century fans can revile it all they want for having powerful Gundams, or pretty-boy character designs. The fact is 00 pushed the series in to a new and relevant place. As good as Unicorn looks, I don’t think it will do the same.

***½ out of ****