Back to School Part II #54: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (dir by Nicholas Stoller)

(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)


How many times can the same thing keep happening to the same people?

That’s a question that you may be tempted to ask yourself while watching Neighbors 2.  Neighbors 2 is, of course, a sequel to the original Neighbors.  In the first film, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne played Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple who are struggling to deal with the fact that, as new parents, they are now officially adults.  When a crazy and wild fraternity moves in next door to them and refuses to tone down their partying ways, Mac and Kelly are forced to take matters into their own hands.  Occasionally hilarious mayhem ensues.

In Neighbors 2, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne again play Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple who are struggling to deal with the fact that, as parents who are awaiting the arrival of their 2nd child, they are now officially adults and may have to finally move into a more family friendly house in the suburbs.  When a crazy and wild fraternity sorority moves in next door to them and refuses to tone down their partying ways, Mac and Kelly are forced to take matters into their own hands.  Occasionally hilarious mayhem ensues.

Yeah, it’s all pretty familiar.  Not only are many of the same jokes from the first film repeated but they’re often repeated at that exact same spot in which they originally appeared.  To the film’s credit, it does occasionally acknowledge that it’s repeating itself, though it never quite reaches the self-aware heights of something like 22 Jump Street.  Even Zac Efron returns and, again, he is initially the Radner’s enemy before eventually becoming their ally.

That said, the familiarity is not necessarily a bad thing.  Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne both know how to get laughs, even when they’re telling the same joke that they told a year ago.  Zac Efron tends to try too hard whenever he has a dramatic role (like in The Paperboy, for instance) but he’s got a real talent for comedy.

Ultimately, though, the best thing that saves Neighbors 2 from just being a forgettable comedy sequel is the sorority.  As opposed to the first film’s creepy fraternity, the sorority in Neighbors 2 is partying for a cause greater than just hedonism.  Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz, finally getting to have fun in a movie) starts her independent sorority in response to being told that official sororities are not allowed to throw parties and, instead, can only attend misogynistic frat parties.  When Shelby and her sorority buy the house, it’s not just to make trouble.  It’s because they need a place where they can have a good time without feeling that they’re in constant danger from drunk and perverted frat boys.  A subtext of empowerment through partying runs through Neighbors 2 and it elevates the entire film.

Neighbors 2 is an entertaining film, even if it never leaves as much of an impression as you may hope.  (I have to admit that, whenever I try to list all the films that I’ve seen this year, Neighbors 2 is one of those that I often have to struggle to remember.)  That said, it’s not a terrible way to spend 97 minutes and it’ll make you laugh.  And, ultimately, that really is the most important thing when it comes to comedy.

As for the question of how often can the same thing happen to the same person…

Well, I guess we’ll have to wait for Neighbors 3 to get our answer!

Back to School #69: Superbad (dir by Greg Mottola)


One of the great things about the 2007 comedy Superbad is that it has a title that allows for snarky but overworked reviewers like me to come up with an easy review.

For instance, if I disliked Superbad, I could just say, “Superbad more than lives up to its name!”  However, since I happen to like Superbad, I can say that Superbad is supergood, supercool, and superfun!

See how easily that works?

Plotwise, Superbad tells a story that will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a teen comedy.  Three guys try to get laid.  Seth (Jonah Hill) is the rotund and boisterous one, the one who has a crush on Jules (Emma Stone), who is your basic good girl with a wild side.  Evan (Michael Cera) is the sweet and sensitive one.  And then there’s Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the nerdy one with the thick glasses.  Fogell is the one who gets a hilariously bad fake ID, one that tells the world that his name is McLovin.


After Jules invites Seth to a party, he and Evan enlist Fogell to use his fake ID to buy them alcohol.  However, as often happens in the type of films, things get complicated.  While Fogell is buying the beer, the convenience store is held up.  The police arrive and Evan and Seth panic and run off.  Meanwhile, Fogell is befriended by the two cops (played by Seth Rogen and Bill Hader), both of whom are incredibly impressed that their new friend has as wonderful a name as McLovin.

(“You’re name’s McLovin?  That’s badass!”


And so, while McLovin bonds with his new cop friends, Seth and Evan continue to try to find beer and make their way to Jules’s party….

Superbad was produced by Judd Apatow and it features his usual combination of raunchy humor and sentimental bromance.  In fact, it’s such a male-centered film that I’m always a little bit surprised at how much I enjoy it.  However, Superbad is a seriously funny movie.  The script (which Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg reportedly starting on when they were 13 years old) is full of great lines and Michael Cera and Jonah Hill make for an adorable comedy team.  And then there’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse who takes the character of Fogell to his most logical extreme and then just keeps going.  McLovin’s adventures may not be the most realistic or subtle part of the movie but they are still a lot of fun to watch.

Speaking of McLovin and his adventures with the cops, I love the performances of both Seth Rogen and Bill Hader.  If you don’t laugh at the way Seth Rogen says, “Oh no!  It’s the cops!,” then you need to be worried about your sense of humor.

Superbad is supergood, supercool, superfun, supersweet, and just plain super.


Quick Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean Dublois)

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster1-690x1024Ah, Berk. That fictional far away land where Dragons once plagued humans, until a young boy made friends with a Night Fury and changed everything.

How I’ve missed this place.

Fox & Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 brings us back to its dragon riding fun, taking place 5 years after the events of the first film. While the story doesn’t have the same level of depth as say, Kung Fu Panda 2, it still manages to be an enjoyable thrill ride when the dragons are taking flight.

Since this is an animated feature, let’s do visuals first. The animation is roughly the same as the original, with a bit of aging here and there for the main characters, but both the colors and the depth of field are a major standout. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) was brought back on board as  a consultant for the lighting, focus and color tones and it definitely shows. If at all possible, this film should be seen in its 3D format. The flight sequences are a joy to behold and when they’re not flying, you shouldn’t find yourself squinting and pinching your nose too much. Chris Sanders wasn’t on hand this time for the writing and directing, although you can still see his designs all over the film.

Additionally, there were a number of technical changes that improved the process. Just as Pixar did with Renderman, Dreamworks ended up creating their own software, Apollo. Apollo uses two tools – Premo, which allowed the animators better control of characters through the use of Wacom tablets. Even more magical is Torch, a lighting system developed with Deakins’ assistance that allowed for more natural setups in animation. One of the best uses of this is when Hiccup is surrounded in a dark room and needs to use his sword to illuminate the area. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s used in other Dreamworks projects.

All of the familiar characters are back – Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup is a little older, and much wiser than in the original, with he and Toothless mapping the lands around Berk during their flights. Hiccup’s flair for gadgetry hasn’t left him, as in this film, the character is introduced almost as a medieval Batman. Between he, his father Stoic (Gerald Butler) and his girlfriend / Dragon Racing Champion Astrid (America Ferrera), they get the bulk of the screen time. His friends, played by Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse,  and Kristen Wiig, felt more like cameos than anything else here. Then again, they really didn’t have that great a part in the first film. Toothless, the Unholy Offspring of fire and darkness itself, is still as cuddly and emotive as ever, despite not being able to actually speak. Through the film, both Toothless and Hiccup find themselves growing up in different ways and their relationship is at the heart of everything here. Hiccup and Stoic still have family issues, this time centering around Hiccup preparation for becoming Chief of the town after Stoic steps down.

When Astrid and Hiccup discover dragon hunters (Lead by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington, whose character here still knows nothing), they find a new evil on the horizon in the form of Drago (Guardians of the Galaxy and Blood Diamond’s Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army to do some harm.

Where the movie may stumble is in its last act. It felt abbreviated to me, but as this is meant for children, I suppose it’s not meant to be that long of a film. Clocking in at 102 minutes, it moves fast. For a kid’s film, Dragon 2 rises to some interesting heights that even adults would appreciate. The film doesn’t assume you need to be retold everything you may have missed in the first film, though it does reference some elements of it. The themes of the story are coexistence (between humans & dragons), leadership, friendship and family, and they’re done well.

Trailer: Kick-Ass 2 (Extended Red Band)


This past week saw the largest collection of nerd, geek and comic book fandom gathered in one magical place. The place in question is San Diego and the event is called San Diego Comic-Con or simply just uttered in awed whispers as Comic-Con. It is a place that many outsiders have shunned as a place that has no place in good, normal society yet they continue to arrive in larger numbers to ply their products to those they shun. Even this blog has it’s shamers and ignorant individuals who spew insults yet they too continue to visit because deep in their subconscious they know, like those who ridicule Comic-Con and those who attend them with a passion, that they’re the ones out of step with whats not accepted in society.

What does this mean when it comes to the latest trailer for Kick-Ass 2 that just came out of Comic-Con?

Absolutely nothing other than the trailer and the film itself is just another weird meeting of the two cultures. It’s a film that celebrates the ridiculousness and absurdity of the comic book culture, yet it’s one that’s funded by the very same people who insulted the scene just a decade ago.

The first film was a revelation and helped introduced the world to one Chloe Grace Moretz, but it also showed that comic books and films made from them didn’t have to be PG or even PG-13. There was a place for ultra-violence in our comic book films. It also helped bring the name of Matthew Vaughn into the forefront of comic book fandom. While he’s not directing this sequel (he elected to go with X-Men: First Class and we’re all the better for it), he did help in bringing it to life and hand-picked his successor in Jeff Wadlow.

While Kick-Ass 2 is not getting the same sort of buzz from Comic-Con the original film did it is still one film I’m quite interested in seeing just to find out what has happened to our young superheroes and vigilante crime fighters since the last film. Plus, it’s main villain likes to call himself “Motherfucker”.

Trailer: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Teaser)


Dreamworks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon was one of those films for 2010 that caught me completely off-guard. I had dismissed it as another Dreamworks attempt to try and take the crown from Pixar. So, it was quite a surprise when I finally saw it and realized that Dreamworks had out-Pixared Pixar with this latest offering.

The film did great in the box-office and made the names Hiccup and Toothless names to remember fondly. So, it was a given that a sequel was going to be made and now it is 2013 and we finally have the first teaser trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 2 which will splash across all big-screen theaters around 2014.

To say that this teaser trailer evoked all the fun of the original would be an understatement. I would say that this simple teaser showing Toothless just flying around with Hiccup gave a better sense of the joy of flying than this year’s Man of Steel.

Is It Too Late To Hate On Movie 43?

Originally,  I wasn’t planning on ever seeing Movie 43.

Remember Movie 43?  That’s the comedy with the huge ensemble cast that came out in January and stayed in theaters for about a week.  The trailers looked terrible, the commercials looked terrible, and finally, the reviews were terrible.  In fact, the reviews were so terrible (Richard Roeper called it the Citizen Kane of bad movies) that, at first, I was perfectly content never to see it.

However, as time passed, I continually heard Movie 43 referred to as being one of the worst films ever made.  Every 12 months, I post my picks for the 26 worst films of the year and I knew that Movie 43 was one of those films that would either appear on that list or, if it didn’t, I would have to be willing to defend the title’s absence.

I realized that before I could either defend or condemn, I would have to sit through the movie.  After all, I figured, it’s only 90 minutes of my life.

90 minutes that I’ll never get back, I might add.

Movie 43 is an anthology film in which 13 separate comedic sketches are loosely linked together by one overarching story.  For the most part, this is a film that was presumably made both for adolescent boys and for men who still think like adolescent boys.  Most of the humor is derived from bodily functions and there’s a real strain of misogyny running through the entire film.  However, the film’s problem is not that it’s crude and misogynistic but that it manages to be so dull about being crude and misogynistic.  If you think its hilarious when Meg is insulted on Family Guy or when Seth McFarlane smirks after making an anti-Semitic comment, you might enjoy Movie 43 but the rest of us are going to find far less to enjoy.

Oddly enough, there are actually two different versions of Movie 43 in circulation.  In the version that was released in U.S. theaters, the various vignettes are tied together by a story in which an insane director (Dennis Quaid) pitches scene after scene to a callous movie executive (Greg Kinnear).  In the version that was released in the UK, they’re linked together by a story about 3 teenagers searching for the most offensive film ever made.  To be honest, both versions are pretty stupid but I prefer the one about the 3 teenagers, if just because that way I can pretend that neither Dennis Quaid nor Greg Kinnear had anything to do with this movie.

As for the sketches themselves, there’s 13 of them and they are a mixed bag as far as both humor and quality are concerned:

1)      The Catch (dir by Peter Farrelly)

Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman go on a blind date.  Jackman has testicles hanging from his neck and only Winslet thinks this is an odd thing.  This skit goes on forever.

2)      Homeschooled (dir by Will Graham)

Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts explain how they’re making sure that their teenage son is getting the full high school experience despite the fact that he’s being homeschooled.  They do this through a combination of hazing and incest.  This skit worked pretty well, mostly because of the dedication that Schreiber and Watts brought to their absurd roles.

3)      The Proposition (dir by Steve Carr)

Uhmm…yeah.  So, this is the skit that opens with Anna Faris asking Chris Pratt to defecate on her.  I skipped over it because, quite frankly, life is too short.

4)      Veronica (dir by Griffin Dunne)

Neil (Kieran Culkin) is working the night shift at a depressing grocery store when his ex-girlfriend Veronica (Emma Stone) comes in.  They argue about who infected who with an STD.  Little do they realize that Neil has accidentally turned on the intercom and everyone in the store can hear them.  I actually kind of liked this short skit.  Culkin and Stone had a lot of chemistry and it was well-directed by Griffin Dunne.  Plus, it only lasted 2 minutes and, therefore, ended before the joke got old.

5)      iBabe (dir by Stephen Brill)

The iBabe is an MP3 player that happens to look like a life-size nude woman.  Unfortunately, a fan was built into the iBabe’s vagina and now, teenage boys are being dismembered while fingering and fucking iBabe.  Richard Gere plays the President of the company that makes iBabe.  I’ve never thought of Richard Gere as being a comedic actor and his performance here does nothing to change that.

6)      Superhero Speed Dating (directed by James Duffy)

Robin (Justin Long) goes speed dating and Batman (Jason Sudekis) tries to mess things up for him.  This skit – which also features (and wastes) Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, and Bobby Cannavale – is so incredibly bad that I don’t even know where to begin.  Between this film and his appearance in last year’s The Conspirator, I’m having to rethink my slight crush on Justin Long.

7)      Machine Kids (directed by Jonathan Von Tulleken)

This commercial parody asks us to consider the children who work inside copiers and vending machines and how they are effected when we criticize those machines for not accepting our dollar.  This was actually so weird that I couldn’t help but love it.

8)      Middleschool Date (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

7th grader Amanda (Chloe Moretz) is having her first “middle school” date with Nathan (Jimmy Bennett) when she starts her first period.  In response, Nathan and his older brother (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) panic.  Believe it or not, this was actually one of the better parts of Movie 43, if just because the scene’s humor comes not from Amanda getting her period but instead from how every male around her descends into histrionics as a result.   It helps that this was the only part of Movie 43 that was both written and directed by women.  It also helps that director Elizabeth Banks is so clearly on Amanda’s side.  The end result is one of the few moments in Movie 43 that doesn’t feel misogynistic. 

9)      Tampax (dir by Patrik Forsberg)

This is another fake commercial.  Two girls are at the beach.  One uses tampax tampons and the other doesn’t.  Guess which one gets eaten by a shark?  As opposed to the previous skit, this bit of menstrual humor was obviously written and directed by a man (and the message, not surprisingly, is “Ewww!  Girls are scary and dangerous!”) but I’m going to have to admit that this one made me laugh if just because, like Middleschool Date, it reminded me of some of the period horror stories that I used to hear (and believe) back when I was younger.  (Though I was raised to be more concerned about bears than sharks…)

10)  Happy Birthday (dir by that noted comedian, Brett Ratner)

Pete (Johnny Knoxville) kidnaps an angry leprechaun (Gerard Butler) and gives it to Brian (Seann William Scott).  The leprechaun’s equally angry brother (also played by Gerard Butler) shows up and violence ensues.  Watching this skit was like being told a joke by someone who has no sense of humor.

11)  Truth or Dare (dir by Peter Farelly and Patrik Forsberg)

Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant are on a first date and Merchant has testicles on his neck…oh wait.  Sorry, that was Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet’s skit.  In this skit, Berry challenges Merchant to game of truth or dare.  It escalates as the dares get continually more and more outrageous.  Whoops?  Did I say outrageous?  I meant to say stupid and oddly dull.  Watching this skit was like listening to a someone who has no sense of humor continue to tell a joke even though everyone else has already guessed the punchline.

12)  Victory’s Glory (dir by Rusty Cundieff)

In this parody of “inspirational” sports movies, Coach Jackson (Terrence Howard) speaks to his basketball team before they play their first game against an all-white team.  The gist of the speech is that Jackson’s team is going to win because they’re black and the other team is white.  This skit started out strong but, like a lot of Movie 43, it ran on for a bit too long.

13)  Beezel (dir by James Gunn)

This was actually my favorite part of Movie 43.  Unfortunately, since Beezel shows up in the middle of the end credits, I get the feeling that a lot of disappointed audience members had probably already walked out of the theater before it even began.  Beezel is a cartoon cat who has an unhealthy obsession with his owner (Josh Duhamel).  When Duhamel’s girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Banks) catches Beezel masturbating to pictures of Duhamel in a swimsuit, Beezel responds by plotting her demise.  Beezel was actually the only part of Movie 43 that truly felt edgy and unpredictable.  This is largely because this segment was directed by James Gunn, one of the few truly transgressive artists currently working in mainstream film.

So, here’s the question: is Movie 43 the worst film of 2013 as so many critics have claimed?  A few isolated moments aside, Movie 43 is pretty bad.  Even the parts of the film that do work can’t hope to compete with the pure horrifying incompetence of that parts that don’t.  However, thanks largely to James Gunn and Elizabeth Banks, it’s still a smidgen or so better than Tyler Perry’s Temptation.  (For all of its failings, Movie 43 never suggests that AIDS is God’s way of punishing wives who stray.  Nope, for that message, you have to go to Tyler Perry.)

Movie 43 is not the worst film of 2013.

It just seems like it.

Trailer: Kick-Ass 2 (Red Band)


2010’s Kick-Ass was one of those films that you either loved or hated. It was a film adapted from the Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. comic book of the same name that also had a similar reputation of having extreme opposites in regards to how people perceived it.

I, for one, loved the film despite just being “meh” when it came to the comic. Where the film by Matthew Vaughn was a darkly comic deconstruction of the superhero story the comic book that gave birth to it was just an exercise in shocking the readers without working for it. Yet, despite that the film was a hit with both the fans of the comic book and those who didn’t even know it was a comic book. That popularity allowed the film to make enough profit that a sequel was greenlit even before a second volume of the comic book was even started by Millar and Romita, Jr.

Kick-Ass 2 sees the return of both Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass with Red Mist now calling himself The Motherfucker and the film’s main antagonist. The sequel sees Matthew Vaughn return as producer with Jeff Wadlow stepping in as director.

Kick-Ass 2 is set for an August 16, 2013 North American release date with the film premiering earlier on July 19, 2013 in the UK.

Film Review: ParaNorman (dir. by Sam Fell and Chris Butler)

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the new animated film ParaNorman.  As much as I love animated films, ParaNorman‘s trailer had never really captured my imagination.  (Or, at the very least, it hadn’t captured my imagination in the way that the trailers for Brave and Wreck-It Ralph did.)  For the most part, the only reason that ParaNorman was even on my radar was because it was advertised as being the latest film from the creators of Coraline and the only reason that Jeff and I ended up seeing this film last Friday instead of The Expendables 2 was because I had a slight headache and didn’t want to have to spend two hours listening to men yelling, guns firing, and bombs exploding.

In other words, I saw ParaNorman with low-to-no expectations and sometimes, that’s the perfect way to go to the movies because I absolutely loved ParaNorman.

ParaNorman tells the story of Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a shy boy who has the ability to talk to the dead.  This talent comes in handy because Norman happens to live in the haunted New England town of Blithe Hollow. 

I fell in love with ParaNorman during the opening credits, in which we watch as Norman talks to the spirts of everyone from an unfortunte aviator to a squished dog, all the while simply trying to get to school on time.  In this short, wonderfully animated sequence, we learn everything that we need to know about Norman and the town of Blithe Hollow.  We learn that Norman is shy, he’s lonely, and he’s also one of the few people in the world nice enough to actually be polite to a pushy ghost demanding his attention.  As for the town of Blithe Hollow, it’s a memorably ugly creation, full of ominous buildings that seem to have sprung straight from a nightmare of German Expressionism. 

Blithe Hollow, we soon learn, is a town that’s haunted by a lot more than just a few restless spirits.  The town was founded by Puritans who, as the film begins, are mostly remembered for their witch hunts.  Centuries ago, the town founders burned a witch at the stake and that witch cursed the town.  While it wouldn’t be right for me to give away too many details of the plot, it turns out that the witch’s curse is very much real and, as a result of a several complications and mistakes on the part of both Norman and the citizens of Blithe Hollow, the town is soon overrun by zombies. 

In a twist that would make George Romero proud, the citizens of Blithe Hollow soon prove themselves to be a hundred times more monsterous and dangerous than the film’s actual monsters.  However, as only Norman can actually talk to the dead, he soon discovers that there’s more to the “zombie rampage” then meets the eye.  Soon, it becomes apparent that Norman’s the only one who can give the witch what she wants and save Blithe Hollow from the sins of the past.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of children at the showing that Jeff and I attended and ParaNorman had enough silly moments to keep them entertained.  They seemed to enjoy the comedic relief provided by Norman’s fat and loyal friend Neil (voiced by Tucker Albrizzi).  That said, ParaNorman isn’t really a film for children.  It starts out slow and wisely devotes a good amount of time  to establishing the oppressive atmosphere of Blithe Hollow.  The film’s resolution comes not with the spectacle that we’ve been conditioned to expect from animated films but instead, the movie ends on a rather subdued, almost mournful note.  ParaNorman‘s humor is combined with a very real sense of melancholy and loss.  This is a film that can be enjoyed by kids but only truly understood by adults.

(If Dellamorte Dellamore is ever remade as an animated film, I expect the end result will look a lot like ParaNorman.)

 Don’t get me wrong, ParaNorman is a funny film that’s full of clever details and smart vocal performances. Along with Smit-McPhee and Albrizzi, the voice cast includes Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Jeff Garlin, and Leslie Mann.  All of them deliver their lines with just the right combination of sincerity and melodrama.  However, the film is really stolen by Jodelle Ferland, who voices the condemned witch and who brought me to very real tears towards the end of the movie.

ParaNorman is hardly a perfect film but’s a nicely ambitious one and it has a good message about tolerance.  I wasn’t expecting much from it and I ended up adoring it.  Perhaps I should lower my expectations more often.

Quick Review: Fright Night (dir. by Craig Gillespie)

I want to say great things about Craig Gillespie’s remake of Fright Night. I want to say that it was worth seeing and it was full of awesome moments. I also wanted to be able to write this review without making so many comparisons to the 1985 Original by Tom Holland. Not that the original was a masterpiece by any means, but I dozed off (just a little) on this film.

If there’s only one reason I could give for recommending Fright Night, it would be to get a taste of what Vampires should be. Don’t read me wrong on this. I own all four Twilight books in hardcover, read them repeatedly, and have seen the three films that came out in the theatre. It’s just nice to see a vampire movie that shows vampires more as predatory creatures than sparkling A&F models.  There’s an edge to this film that’s pretty fun in a lot of ways. Both Colin Farrell and David Tennant have great roles here and even Anton Yelchin holds his own, but there’s a weird breakdown that happens. Fright Night is a good film, as long as you don’t try to make any kind of direct comparisons to the source material.

The story focuses on Charlie Brewster (Yelchin), a teenager – the story being in Vegas this time –  who discovers he has a vampire named Jerry Dandrige (Farrell) living next door to him. When the vampire confronts Charlie, Charlie is forced to seek out help in the form of Peter Vincent (Tennant) to defeat him. While there were a few scenes that really stood out for me and I found myself smiling more often than rolling my eyes, the pacing of this was off. Other audiences may find that the movie moved well. I felt like they were just throwing things to say “Well, wouldn’t it be cool if they did this, and then that.”

The two problems I had with Fright Night were it’s pacing and Chris Mintz-Plasse. Chris is fun to watch at the start, and I’d love to see him do more, but someone really has to give him something where he’s not playing the “token geek”.  While I liked the movie overall, there’s a lot of verbal exposition in the beginning of the film, as Charlie doesn’t so much discover the truth about Jerry, but is pretty much told the entire scenario he’s in about 15 minutes into the start. I had a problem with that. Again, depending on the audience, the movie may move just fine.

Fright Night is one of those films could be a love it or hate it. I’m of the audience that will probably catch it again when it’s out on video, but it doesn’t feel like anything you really have to rush to the theatre for.

Review: Kick-Ass (dir. by Matthew Vaughn)

Comic books which have been adapted for the big-screen have had an uneven track record. For every excellent film-incarnations like Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, The Dark Knight and Iron-Man we get dregs like Elektra, Ghost Rider and Daredevil. The last couple years filmmakers have gravitated towards the deconstruction side of comic book superheroes. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was as much an action-thriller as it was a meditation on the superhero psyche and mythmaking. Then there was 2009’s Watchmen which tried admirably (though failed in the end) to adapt Alan Moore’s epic deconstruction of the superhero archetypes.

It’s now 2010 and we get the first comic book film of the year. The film is an adaptation of Mark Millar (writer) and John Romita, Jr.’s (artist) ultraviolent comic book title from Marvel’s Icon Comics (their creator-owned publishing line). Kick-Ass was optioned and adapted by British-director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman. Unlike most comic book films of the past decade, Vaughn’s Kick-Ass was independently-financed (with help from Brad Pitt and his Plan B Studio) and made which was the best thing that could’ve happened to this project. With a free rein to make the film he wanted without corporate studio meddling, Matthew Vaughn was able to craft a fun and violent romp of a film mashup that collides superhero archetypes and conventions with “real world” grounding.

The story and premise for Kick-Ass is actually quite simple enough to follow. We have high-schooler and avid comic book fan Dave Lizewski asking his best friends and fellow comic book fans why no one has actually tried to be a superhero. The answer he gets from his like-minded friends doesn’t instill hope in his dream. While they are huge fans of superheroes and comic books they stop at actually trying to be one in real-life. Dave, on the other hand, knows that it’s possible for one to try and be a superhero even without powers. He believes that determination, conviction and the need to help those in need would be all that someone requires to become a superhero. With these criteria in mind he sets off to do the very thing he had asked his friends about. He accomplishes this by ordering (for the amount of $99.99) a green and yellow wet-suit and head cover plus a pair of batons and a taser gun. His first attempt at superherodom fails spectacularly as he’s stabbed and violently run over in the street. This near-fatal introduction to the world of superheroes doesn’t deter Dave when deep down even he knows that he’ll get killed if he continues on his quest to become the next Spider-Man.

The story moves on to Dave finally getting his superhero fame by stopping a beatdown of a stranger and having this event caught on a bystander’s camera phone and uploaded said video on Youtube. With this amateur video on Youtube getting millions of hits and views, plus Dave’s own creation of a MySpace page for his alter-ego the world finally gets it’s real-life superhero in the form of Kick-Ass. A name that spurs not just tens of thousands of fans on Kick-Ass’ MySpace page but also a boom in sudden Kick-Ass merchandise in Dave’s local comic book shop. Through it all Dave revels in the attention his alter-ego has been getting even the unexpected attention of the girl of his dreams, Katie Deauxma (played by the lovely Lyndsy Fonseca). An attention born out of a misunderstanding where Katie believes Dave to be gay because of circumstances revolving around his near-death experience of his very first attempt at crimefighting.

On the sidelines of all this we get introduced to the film’s real “superheroes” in the form of Big Daddy (played by Nicolas Cage) and his sidekick and 11-year old daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). We see early on that both Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are the real thing though calling them superheroes would be a stretch since they seem to be more vigilantes who happen to wear costumes and with no compunction at all about killing the criminals. These two are definitely not Batman and Robin (one of many easter egg-like references to comic book characters and storylines). Their story parallels that of Kick-Ass’ but where Dave seems to enjoy just playing at being a superhero and the adoration such role-playing gives him both Big Daddy and Hit-Girl actually have a focus and mission in their own attempts. These are two individuals who believe in the superhero roles they’ve taken on themselves and have prepared and trained themselves well for the violent consequences and ramifications of their mission.

The rest of the film takes the audience on a peculiar coming-of-age journey for one Kick-Ass. As stated earlier he’s pretty much all talk with a rose-tinted view of a superhero’s life. What he has read in his comic books doesn’t prepare him for the reality of actually trying to act and become a true superhero. While writer Mark Millar takes a dim and cynical view of what Kick-Ass is trying to figure out and accomplish (most of the comic’s morality ends up being that bad things happen to good people with the best of intentions), director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman take a more hero’s journey approach (sprinkled liberally with foul language and bloody violence). While Dave Lizewski’s attempts to live up to his hero persona of Kick-Ass range from succeeding through luck to failing miserably and at times fatally, by the end of the film circumstances (which have spiralled out of his own control) forces him to finally face up to the fact that if he really wanted to be a superhero he needed to finally do more than just talk and pretend to be one and actually act and perform like one.

This is in contrast to Hit-Girl’s own journey which doesn’t start her off as clumsy and unsure of herself. Instead we see in Hit-Girl the type of individual Kick-Ass wants to be but is unable to through most of the film. Where Kick-Ass suddenly realizes that he’s way over his head once the bodies start dropping in bloody ways, Hit-Girl doesn’t lack in confidence but is in control of every situation she’s confronted with. Whether it’s rescuing Kick-Ass from death (more than once) or finally launching the climactic assault on her and Big Daddy’s focus and reason for being. Hit-Girl is the true superhero with Big Daddy really her sidekick. Everyone else, from Kick-Ass to Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), just pretend and play at being costumed superheroes. Hit-Girl is the personification of the female antihero of the recent comics, but unlike most female characters in comic books she’s not the fringe character or the one in need to help. She’s the one who rescues everyone and willing to sacrifice her very life to live up to the ideals (however twisted they may be to the audience) she has set for herself.

Kick-Ass may have been an post-modern exercise in trying to deconstruct and then acknowledge the superhero archetype and themes, but first and foremost it is a very fun and exhilarating rollercoaster ride of an action film. Vaughn and Goldman were able to capture the exciting and fun side of the original comic despite leaving behind some of the meanspiritedness of Millar’s writing. Goldman definitely has an ear for inserting comedy beats into the film to keep the story from becoming too serious and thus slowing down the film. In fact, I would say that Kick-Ass was a very fast-paced two-hour film that would alternate between comedy and action with a tender moment spliced in at the last third of the film. Much of the comedy in Kick-Ass come at the expense of Kick-Ass himself as he stumbles his way through most of the film either out of his league or just pantshitting scared of what he’s gotten himself into. Nicolas Cage’s characterization of Big Daddy also drew some major laughs as he alternated from a twisted version of Mr. Rogers as Damon MacReady to channeling Adam West’s “Batman” when dressed up as Big Daddy.

One thing which Matthew Vaughn has shown with is third feature-length film was the ability to create and shoot some very good action sequences. He even made an interesting stylistic choice to film his action sequences differently depending on whether it was Kick-Ass who was the focal point in the fight or whether it was Hit-Girl or Big Daddy doing the mayhem. Vaughn chose to shoot Kick-Ass’ fight sequences with comedy in mind as the character clumsily fought his way through his opponents. Even when he finally finds his inner superhero in the final fight with his newly discovered nemesis Kick-Ass still fought more on instinct and blindly swinging away instead of actually fighting like an expert. The same couldn’t be said about when Hit-Girl or Big Daddy were the main focus in the action scenes. These two characters were trained killers pure and simple. Their fight choreography was the exact opposite of Kick-Ass’. Hit-Girl’s was especially well-choreographed to show just how honed a fighter and killer Big Daddy’s 11-year old daughter really was even when confronted by over a dozen heavily-armed gangsters and drug dealers. It’s the Hit-Girl action scenes which drew the biggest positive reactions from the audience and rightfully so. Chloe Moretz truly sold the idea of an 11-year old costumed vigilante killer and the film was better for it.

Chloe Moretz star-making performance brings us to the overall performances of the film’s cast. While pretty much everyone who sees this film will agree that Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl pretty much steals every scene she’s in Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass also does a very good job in his performance. He anchors the film as the everyman, or everyboy for this film, the audience will gravitate towards. He’s believable as the stumbling and naive teen whose dream of becoming a superhero turns his life upside-down and rightside-up. We can sympathize with his teen need to be accepted and, ultimately, find his identity. It just happens that he find it in the midst of playing at being his dream girl’s fake gay BFF and then as the superhero he finally became in the end. Nicolas Cage, Clark Duke and Lyndsy Fonseca were good at their “sidekick” roles. On the other side of the superhero spectrum we have Mark Strong as mob boss Frank Dimico doing a wonderful job. Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris Dimico/Red mist makes for a great counterpoint and mirror to Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass. But where Dave finally learns to be a hero and take the role seriously, Mintz-Plasse’s Chris never learns the true meaning of what a hero is and just continues to be the wannabe that Dave started off as but finally shed in the end.

Kick-Ass does a better job at deconstructing the superhero world of comic books than Zack Snyder’s Watchmen of 2009. While the comic book version of Kick-Ass will never be in the same league and level as Alan Moore’s Watchmen the film version flip-flop and shows that sometime the simpler story makes for a better film. Vaughn and Goldman did a great job in adapting the darker and more nihilistic writing of Millar. But while changes were made to allow the story to be more accesible to the general public, the film still manages to keep the spirit of the original source material intact but minus the cuckolding the story’s intrepid hero gets hit with twice to end the story.

Even with the controversy over the Hit-Girl character and of Chloe Moretz protrayal of this blood-soaked and foul-mouthed killer it shouldn’t diminish the fact that Kick-Ass set out to be both thought-provoking, fun and entertaining and succeeds in accomplishing all three. While the film has flaws they’re not so glaring or even distracting that they take away from one’s enjoyment of the film. Even for an “origins” tale Kick-Ass manages to escape being too overly reliant on dialogue to explain everything that’s going on to the audience. The fact that a sequel was already being talked about even before the film’s release shows confidence in both Millar and Vaughn that there’s further adventures and stories to show and tell about Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl. I, for one, will be there to see what they will be up to next.