Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Chloe Moretz”

The Equalizer

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5th October 2014

Denzel walking in slow motion away from an explosion. Denzel moving in slow motion through rain. Denzel rounding a corner in slow motion with a kick-ass gun. There’s all this and more in the latest Denzel action flick The Equalizer, from the director of Training Day (which was an even more kick-ass action flick starring, er, Denzel).

Here Denzel rolls out his Everyman as Robert, a blue-collar chap living a monk-like existence in the ‘burbs of Boston. He works hard at the local hardware store, pausing during the rituals of his obsessive-compulsive, self-contained life to offer encouragement to those around him who are struggling to improve their lot. Robert is a man with a past but we don’t know what it is – but he’s clearly had time to learn all the inspirational lines: “Progress, not perfection,” Robert tells the aspiring security guard – “Don’t doubt yourself, doubt kills”. “You gotta be who you are in this world,” Robert opines to Alina, the young prostitute who is being beaten by her pimp (Kick Ass’s Chloe Grace Moretz, all grown-up in tiny shorts and gigantic shoes). They all hang on his every mysterious word.

Because he’s Denzel, these clichéd interactions are redeemed by the genuine rapport he has with all his supporting characters – he and Moretz in particular have a nice connection which steers clear of creepy or paternal as Robert’s instincts catch up with him and he turns vigilante. More Spider-Man than Liam Neeson, he moves humbly but nonetheless with blunt force, single-handedly taking on a band of Russian criminals (helmed by Kiwi Marton Csokas who more than holds his own against the megastar). Wisely, the first half of the film focuses on preambling the building tension, so that when Robert eventually puts hand to weapon (and boy, does he), it’s impressive indeed.

The pacing is a bit uneven, lurching forward in fits of bloodshed then halting so that Robert can do his dead-eyed stare or pre-plan an outnumbered attack. Similarly, some of the set-pieces almost come off – there’s an impressive climax that evokes The Raid set in a Bunnings, which justifies the R18 rating.

But the Russians are as subtly portrayed – all Faberge eggs, vodka and Icon paintings – as the film’s incessant signposting, laboured further with portentous music and at one point a voiceover to needlessly show us that Robert is grappling with a difficult decision.

We can probably blame all that slo-mo for stretching the running time to over two hours. However, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and because he’s the man, Denzel can get away with just about anything. It’s worth blowing something up behind him to watch him walk away.

If I Stay

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 7th September 2014

This young adult novel by Gayle Forman has been made into a distinctly young adult film which might touch the older viewer at times but is largely going to be the cinema-going remit of those who like their pathos double-downed.

And boy, does it use up all the tissues. As if the emotional wringer of falling in love wasn’t enough for a teen story, If I Stay weaves into it the devastation of a car crash which leaves a family’s lives in the balance.

Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a brilliant young cellist with an eye on the top music school in the country whose life is torn apart one fateful, snow-ridden day. As the narrative follows the fallout from the accident, Chloe’s voiceover darts back to the past to recount the previous two years, during which time she meets rocker Adam (Jamie Blackley). Negotiating the travails of being a classical musician and not fitting in with his crowd, Mia and Adam’s relationship is pretty typical of teen intensity and insecurity, even if Mia’s perpetual soft-focus beauty (all angora sweaters and nonchalantly curled hair) is more evocative of fairytale.

It’s a curious choice of project for director R. J. Cutler, who documented a year in the life of Vogue magazine in the terrific The September Issue, and has for some reason been tasked with entirely different subject matter here. But as a YA movie it works well enough. Sensibly, the double-stranded plot keeps you engaged throughout, aided by the “live or die” question mark which dangles above the characters. The flashbacks to happier times provide a showcase for serious actors like The Killing‘s Mireille Enos to quite literally let their hair down as the alt-rock mom who plays hooky from work and implores her straight-laced daughter to lighten up.

However, with such an overdose of tragedy, the plot becomes almost overwhelming and it is impossible to really connect with what’s going on for the characters – no sooner do your eyes well up about one sadness, another is thrown on to the fire. The youth of today seem to have a remarkable capacity for absorbing this degree of anguish, and the story was written for them, but older viewers may not feel so carried away.

Carrie

It sure is a long time to wait for a follow-up. Sissy Spacek made cinematic history back in 1976 as her high school peers drenched her in pig’s blood and created one of horror’s most enduring images. Brian de Palma’s rendition of Stephen King’s novel Carrie is a pretty hard act to follow, so you’d be forgiven for wondering why anyone would.

Kudos therefore goes to Kimberly Peirce, director of the superbly devastating Boys Don’t Cry (which won Hilary Swank her first Oscar), for delivering a sure-handed if overly faithful update to Carrie’s nightmare in 2013. Peirce knows better than most how terrifying avenging teenage girls can be, and when someone whips out a cellphone to record Carrie’s initial humiliation, it’s impossible not to shudder with foreknowledge of how bad things could get. Unfortunately the plot then fails to exploit cyber-bullying to the extent that it could, which is a missed opportunity to both comment on and utilise a contemporary horror.

Nonetheless, with strong actors like Julianne Moore playing Carrie’s Bible-thumping mom and headliner Chloe Grace Moretz in the lead, Peirce has at least avoided the traditional horror route of casting untalented no-names. Judy Greer is terrific as the extremely interventionist PE teacher (her dressing down of the mean girls is inspirational). If anything it is Moretz who is the double-edged sword – initially she rather overplays the helpless victim, before swiftly blossoming into a force to be reckoned with (perhaps because we now see her as the bad-ass from Kick Ass?) and some viewers may be unable to sympathise with Carrie because she doesn’t seem to need us to.

None of this will impinge on your enjoyment, however, particularly if the very thought of high school is enough to send shivers down your spine. This horror film has plenty of viscera and some deaths worthy of Final Destination. On top of that, while the telekinetic activity is anticipated rather than unexpected, at least we can’t see the strings.

Kick Ass 2

The first Kick Ass film was pre-hyped and criticised for its alleged ultra-graphic violence, but in the end the simple premise of real people working hard to earn their superherodom (as opposed to those who get bitten by spiders or spend millions on gadgets) won fans everywhere. It also made stars of Brit Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the then 13-year old Chloe Grace Moretz, who played Kick Ass and Hit Girl respectively.

Well, the kids are back and they are as good as ever, but perhaps inevitably lightning strikes sharpest in origin stories, and this follow-up feels one-note and boringly gratuitous by comparison.

Orphaned Hit Girl battles her desire to ditch school and go vigilante on the streets, while Kick Ass longs for a team he can join to carry on the good work that gives his life meaning. Thanks to social media, he finds a like-minded gang just as his nemesis from the previous film (Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse) decides to turn to the dark side.

Director Jeff Wadlow works with source material written by the comic book’s creator, Mark Millar, but Wadlow’s previous success with short films belies his capacity to wring a feature length movie out of this simple set-up. The fun of the first film was largely in watching the superhero personas choose their masks and practice their skills. Here, that’s been done already – so all we get is a lot of mindless fighting in alleyways before a slaughterhouse of a set-piece.

Even the addition of Jim Carrey brings nothing – his performance feels muted and he is virtually unrecognisable in face and style. One feels Johnson and Moretz, and their legions of fans, have been sadly let down.

“Kick Arse” (sic)

Kick Ass

So much hype! Such controversy! What’s one expected to think about it?? Either I say it’s not-actually-that-great and get lumped in with the knee-jerk ignoramuses at the Daily Mail, or I say it’s awesome and I’m jumping on a not-very-clever bandwagon. *sigh* – what’s a FanGirl to do…  See it for myself, and then over-analyse.

SO – what’s good about it? First off, Kick Ass is quite clever, right from its simple premise: an ordinary kid with no super-powers (unlike SpiderMan) and no means (unlike Batman) decides to create his own super-hero persona and go out and help people.  So far, so fantastic!  Add to this the charisma of our lead actor, Aaron Johnson (John Lennon from Nowhere Boy) and his droopy but witty sidekicks, and some nice set-ups as he tries out the necessities of costuming, attempted martial arts, and the ever-important “attitude”.  Soon Kick-Ass (as he names himself) is renowned for his masked good deeds, and gathering quite a following on YouTube.

Enter the other players in our comic book drama: Mark Strong is the main baddy, luminous in blood orange outfits, all twisted lip and cold calculation.  Nicolas Cage returns to our screens in a (thankfully) decent role, which is hilarious in its juxtaposition between soppy, doting father to the 11-year old Hit Girl, and Big Daddy, his super-hero alter-ego whose falsely-applied goatee disguises a deadly gunslinger completely lacking in empathy.

Hit Girl is one of the gems of the film – the 13 year old actress (from (500) Days of Summer) is Chloe Moretz, sure to become as big a star as Abigail Breslin and Dakota Fanning before her.  Apart from her utterance of the dreaded “C” word (certainly shocking for one so young, yet in fact delivered in so throwaway a fashion that, frankly, if the Mail and other critics hadn’t leapt on it right away, plenty of viewers may not even have noticed), she gets to have the most fun – playing an accomplished female assassin with enormous wit and self-possession. All her scenes are superb, and you can’t help but admire her as totally cool.

The lighting, photography and soundtrack make this film a very exciting watch – the colours are super-vibrant, like Dick Tracy (that is, er, like a comic book) and most of the shots are hyper-stylised, lending to the hyperbolic nature of the story and the action sequences.  This was never meant to be real-life – and so the controversy surrounding the film (including concerns about its being excessively violent) is really a nonsense.  Kick Ass is a teenage boy’s dream sequence, and given there is a teenage boy in most of us, the film is a blast to watch.

So, where does it fall down?  Well… it’s not THAT clever – writer Jane Goldman pretty much pulls together clichés from other films and lobs them at us with a trebuchet.  We’re watching reruns of Spider Man a lot of the time (hiding your identity from friends/the woman you love; going up against a rival super-hero) as we waft towards a pretty-damn-cool fight scene finale reminiscent of The Matrix and Kill Bill.  The music is borrowed from other films (but it’s still awesome – so that’s OK) – so whatever Kick Ass can’t claim in originality, it still delivers in terms of a rollicking night at the flicks.

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