Monthly Archives: April 2010
Surrogates feels either like an early first draft or maybe one half of a discarded final draft; this half-baked, shrift movie is not complete by any means. It’s too streamlined following the most obvious plot beats imaginable and adding nothing new to the sci-fi genre. In the future, people don’t go out, they just sit back and experience the world through the eyes of their surrogate robotic person. This plot device is ripe for social commentary but instead it just becomes the starting point for a snoozy detective story destined to climax in “My God, what have we done?” territory. There is too many interesting avenues the story could have gone but it doggedly sticks to the well-tread main road of sci-fi: technology will turn against us. The movie comes across like one long allegorical jab against people devoted to technology, namely the Internet, and the end might as well carry big flashing letters that spell, “Got outside and play, you nerds!” The action and special effects are listless, and director Jonathon Mostow (Terminator 3) waited so long to make this movie but you never feel his interest in a single frame. I suppose, in the end, there is no surrogate for good writing.
Nate’s Grade: C
Based on Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s popular eight-issue comic, Kick-Ass takes the world of superheroes and makes it one step closer to reality. Granted, it’s still a heightened reality with flexible rules erratically administered, but it’s almost recognizable. Nobody in Hollywood wanted to touch this movie, so it was produced entirely outside the studio system. That hesitation may be because Kick-Ass begins as a goofy teen comedy and morphs into a bloody action caper with off-the-wall violence. But it’s also preposterously entertaining.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is just a typical kid who reads comics and wonders what else could be out there for him. He’s pretty much a nobody at school who routinely gets beat up. His life’s biggest tragedy is the loss of his mother, but she was not taken by some dastardly villain but by an aneurysm. Dave questions why nobody ever tried to be a real super hero. Tired of being a nonentity, Dave orders a wet suit and fashions a costume for a superhero alter ego, Kick-Ass. His first few encounters don’t go so well, landing Dave in the hospital, but in short time his exploits become a YouTube sensation. His MySpace page becomes full of admirers all seeking super hero help. He inspires others to don cape and cowl, like Damon “Big Daddy” Macready (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter, Mindy “Hit Girl” Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz). But they have their own reasons for cleaning up the streets. Big Daddy worked as a cop but was wrongly imprisoned when he went against mob kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). Damon has been plotting his vengeance and training Mindy to be an efficient killing machine. Unfortunately, their mob hits are being blamed on the hapless Kick-Ass. Frank D’Amico enlists his wannabe gangster son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), to pose as a superhero and lure Kick-Ass out into the open. It’s like The Departed but with more eyeliner.
Kick-Ass is a fairly subversive work, notably in the relationship between Hit Girl and Big Daddy. He has been training her (or brainwashing) to become a tool of vengeance, but he’s also making sure that his little girl will be tough enough to handle the evil the world may throw at her. A father/daughter outing includes dad firing live ammunition into his daughter’s bulletproof wearing chest. He’s doing this so that she won’t be afraid when, not if, she gets shot. She will know what it feels like. He then promises that they’ll go out for ice cream later. This demented sense of parenting, as presented, actually becomes strangely endearing. They become the heart of the movie, and I was surprised that during some major scenes how emotionally involved I was. We have a beguiling sense of protection for Hit Girl, much like her father who even in moments of great agony screams helpful tactical suggestions to his little girl (to answer any concerns, Moretz and the character are not sexualized even with a Catholic schoolgirl outfit). Unlike Kick-Ass, they have something very concrete to fight for, which is why we feel for them and hope for their success.
The tone of this movie, as you might be able to tell, is wildly uneven. Kick-Ass exists in a reality closer to our own, and Hit Girl and Big Daddy exist in a different fantastic reality where they can perform Matrix style maneuvers at a moment’s notice. But I actually believe that these two different tones and approaches compliment one another. Kick-Ass is a realistic portrayal of what would happen if somebody with no training and nothing but complete naivety would don a costume to fight crime for the greater good. In Kick-Ass’s first confrontation with the criminal element ends with him getting stabbed. His superhero wish fulfillment is brought back to a stinging reality thanks to that blade in his side reminding him that violence is real and painful. His first successful encounter with criminals is not because suddenly he has developed super martial arts skills or any sort of power, it’s simply because he has a stronger will power to continue fighting, even as he staggers back and forth likely to pass out from exhaustion. He wins through sheer will power and little else. He’s got heart but not the ability, thus we watch him receive many pummelings throughout the film. And throughout the movie, Kick-Ass keeps to this edict. He doesn’t succeed through any sort of cunning; his only “special ability” is his above-average tolerance for pain. On the flip side, Hit Girl is the ultra stylized fantasy version of a superhero that we’re more familiar with. She has an amazing talent for death and deception, and even her back story feels ripped from the comic pages — raised to avenge the death of her mother by the hands of gangsters. She is much more in line with our anticipated pop culture sensibility of what makes a super hero. So she and Big Daddy exist as the contrast, an exaggeration that heightens the vast difference between the fantasy super hero and the harsh reality of the ordinary (Dave). It’s a satire that indulges in its targets. While the movie toggles back and forth between the two tones, I never felt chaffed by the alternating styles.
And while we’re on the subject, while the film may be called Kick-Ass but he’s the least interesting aspect of it, perhaps because he is a mirror to the audience. He’s weak, wimpy, and is delusional as far as where his lack of abilities can take him. Which sets the stage for the film to be completely stolen by Hit Girl, played to foul-mouthed, steely perfection by breakout star Moretz. She is a one-woman wrecking crew and dispatches bad guys with stylish, wall-flipping ease. The incongruity of watching an 11-year-old child turn into a killing machine both serves as commentary on the preposterous nature of the comic book world, and it also makes for some seriously wicked fun. Who wouldn’t enjoy a pint-sized little crime fighter with a profane vocabulary? Parental activist groups, I suppose, who have complained about the movie’s portrayal of young Moretz, going so far as to argue that any child should not be made to say the off-color language that she does in Kick-Ass (have they listened to school yards this century?). But here’s the point: it’s supposed to be shocking exactly because she’s a child and that battery of behavior is not expected. She lures opponents into a false sense of security because, after all, she’s “just a little kid.” But Hit Girl is anything but. She’s one tough chick and Moretz gives a performance full of swagger. Film fans, get ready for her lead role in the Let the Right One In remake this fall. It should prove to be another launching pad for Moretz.
Director Matthew Vaughn started as a producer for Guy Ritchie’s films, but with every new film under his belt it looks like Ritchie might become an asterisk for the mighty career of Vaughn. After the tense gangster thriller Layer Cake, the whimsical fantasy Stardust, it seems like Vaughn is getting to be a better director whereas Ritchie appears to be getting worse from film to film. But I am here to praise Vaughn and not bury Ritchie. The movie has splashy visuals and some grand action, especially during an all-out assault on D’Amico’s lair as finale. Pretty much like Hot Fuzz, in the last act the movie degenerates into what it was parodying earlier. But by this time I’m already hooked. Let the fireworks commence and I’ll keep munching my popcorn. It’s a rousing, action-packed finish that manages to acknowledge the irreverent ludicrousness of the whole film while still being, well, kick-ass. Vaughn makes excellent use of music, nicely pairing muscular pieces of epic instrumental rock like “In the House — In A Heartbeat” by John Murphy from 28 Days Later. There are some smart additions like having Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” play at a fiery moment of anger, and a kitschy kid song playing during our first introduction to Hit Girl, magnifying the absurdity.
Vaughn also coaxes a good performance from Cage, meaning the actor has strung two good performances in a row (please see Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans). Cage has an eerie sense of determination but he plays his character in an “aw, shucks” Mr. Rogers style, even borrowing the speech patterns of Adam West when he dons his costume.
The movie does have some issues. It’s stuffed with too many subplots that go into more detail than they have to. The gangster goons have way too much screen time and are, at best, bad caricatures. The subplot with Dave’s love interest, cute girl Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), thinking Dave is gay goes on for too long just to offer some third-rate Three’s Company misunderstanding gags. The plot is also completely self-referential without stooping to explanation. As stated earlier, the tonality shifts will not play out the same for everyone, and the plot pretty much switches protagonists halfway through, becoming the Hit Girl show. Then again some might argue that the film would be better off without Kick-Ass.
Kick-Ass plays like a juvenile romp, nothing to be taken seriously. This is not The Dark Knight by any account. I was not feeling the same sense of moral unease that I felt during the depraved, consequences-free killing-as-personal-self-actualization film Wanted, also based on a Millar comic book series. Kick-Ass is never really mean-spirited or cruel or casual with human life, despite the central themes of vigilantism and vengeance. In fact, the movie posits that more people need to make a difference and stand up to injustice, granted he movie ignores the justice system in lieu of fisticuffs. The movie doesn’t deconstruct the world of superheroes like Watchmen, but at the same time it holds it all up for ridicule, saying, “Isn’t this all ridiculous?” and offering escapist thrills. Kick-Ass is a visceral, absurd satire of the realm of superheroes that also manages to mine that same realm for polished genre thrills. Vaughn keeps the movie from feeling disjointed, even as it swaps tones from comic to dramatic, from (moderately) realistic to geek fantasy wish fulfillment. It won’t be for everybody, but consider me apart of the throng that cheered when an 11-year-old managed to make a guy shoot himself in the head with his own gun. There’s probably something wrong with me.
Nate’s Grade: B+
Heating up the art house cinemas, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is two and a half hours, Swedish, in subtitles, and is absent any familiar faces, and audiences can’t seem to get enough. Based on the international best-selling novel, this independent thriller was the highest grossing European film for 2009 and deceased author Stieg Larsson’s two sequels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (sounds like a lot of risky behavior for this girl) have also been made into movies with the same cast. So now that America is caught in the midst of Dragon mania, we all won’t have to wait long for the ongoing adventures of the journalist and the Gothic investigator. Both sequels are planned for release this summer, meaning that the entire trilogy will unwind in theaters over the course of only a few brief months. That’s one thing that has to please American audiences — instant gratification. For those unhip to the world of Lisbeth Salander, get ready to take notes because she’s likely to become an indie film icon, at least for an older, well-read demographic (think: your parents).
Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is an investigative journalist sentenced to jail for 6 months after losing a libel case against a large shady corporation. Before he serves his prison sentence, Mikael is approached by a wealthy businessman, Henrik Vagner (Sven-Bertil Taube), convinced that his niece, Harriet, was murdered and her murderer is still taunting him 40 years later. Henrik Vagner lives with various other family members on a remote island. The mysterious clan has some serious skeletons in their closet, and Henrik believes ones of his family members, apart of the powerful Vagner Group, is guilty. Mikael takes refuge on the island and begins to comb over old police documents looking for any overlooked clues. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) inserts herself into the case. She’s an expert computer hacker and hired by Henrik Vagner to compile a background check of Mikael. But her interest did not end with her assignment. She has hacked into Mikael’s computer and furtively spies on Mikael’s progress. She e-mails him some key breaks in the case and joins Mikael on the island. Together they make rapid progress finding out what happened to Harriet all those years ago, and a serial killer makes note of their encroaching progress.
Thankfully, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a thriller that respects its audience’s intellect by not having to spell out every damn detail, and people, there are a lot of damn details. While the movie feels complete, it still leaves much to the imagination to fill in character back-stories, connect the plot dots, and interpret all those silent glances and meditative stares (granted, it might all get filled in following two sequels). A prime example is when Mikael covets Lisbeth’s photographic memory, telling her what a terrific advantage that must be, and a small pensive look from Lisbeth says all we need. It’s enough to make us re-examine what we think we know concerning her background, and the rest of the movie follows this model. I also appreciated that every break in the case came from good detective work and not some swishy super computer stuff. Though Lisbeth is an expert hacker, nothing these characters do is out of the realm of reality unlike other tech-heavy detectives. The plot is tied in knots and we have all sorts of various suspects and angles. The central mystery needs to be interesting for this movie to work, and it is … after it gets into a second gear. A girl’s disappearance 40 years ago isn’t enough to grab you until the more sinister and sordid elements come out into the fray. It also hurts that there’s a clear disparity when it comes to character interest. Mikael isn’t a blah character by any means but he seems to serve as an expository device, the guy who uncovers the secrets and gets to be the helpless foil to Lisbeth. I suppose for maximum narrative effect a straight man would be required to be paired with Lisbeth.
Lisbeth is an unorthodox choice for a researcher given the fact that she’s pierced, punky, and full of attitude and ink, including a certain titular dragon tattoo. But she’s also fiercely intelligent, resourceful, intuitive, and wounded, which makes her a fairly fascinating character. She’s an exciting mystery of a character. She’s wounded and defensive but cavalier and intentionally confrontational at the same time, an exciting conflict. Her attitude is roughly, “So what if I dress as I do? So what if I have a healthy sexual appetite? So what if I am a woman? I demand to be treated with respect.” Lisbeth commands attention even though she feels uncomfortable being gazed at. She’s more than some female fantasy protagonist, though a punky, bisexual ass-kicking gal will fit the bill for some, she is a full-bodied character and a terrific break from the traditional investigative heroes of mysteries.
I asked myself midway through if the aesthetics were standing in for character; if you stripped away all that punk rock glamour and the shock value of a “Goth PI” than would there be anything compelling left (I was sort of thinking of the Gothic lab tech on America’s quizzically #1 TV show of the moment, the alphabet soup-friendly NCIS)? The answer, I found, was a resounding yes. There’s much more to this girl than a dragon tattoo and a spiked collar. Rapace doesn’t let the outfits overwhelm her. There’s a certain joyful recklessness to her character hidden beneath a veneer of steely coolness. Rapace has to play many different elements through a specific prism of emotional reserve, which makes her character, and her performance, less showy. It makes for a very good performance but ultimately leaves the final judgment of Rapace in question. Despite the international acclaim, Lisbeth isn’t exactly a star-making role. Yet, at least.
The story is awash in details, which is both a positive and negative reflection of the screenplay. There’s likely too many plot details for one screenplay and several elements feel like they may be integral when they really turn out to be incidental, like Nazi ancestry and the lone bridge off the island. Don’t get me all excited with Nazi ancestry and then have it become incidental to the plot. Nonetheless, it takes a good deal of time to process and familiarize all the numerous expository groundwork of the case, and time is what The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has to offer. At 150 minutes, the movie follows a pretty languid pace and doesn’t get moving until an hour in when our two leads join forces. Echoing that deliberate sense of pacing are the sparse and snowy landscapes of Sweden communicating isolation and looming danger. I can pretty much guarantee that the Hollywood adaptation in the works will not be nearly as leisurely with its pacing. The film’s resolution is very drawn out but that’s due to the many niggling plot threads that need to be attended to. It makes for a satisfying albeit mildly exhausting conclusion.
The book’s original title was “Men Who Hate Women” and that seems apt given what occurs on screen. Sure there’s a serial murderer on the loose but that’s par for the course. Even the grisly ritualistic killing stuff. But Lisbeth encounters a lot of malice and hostile male aggression, some of it very sickening. There’s a startlingly extended rape sequence, followed by some sadistic, if justifiable, revenge. It all contributes to an overall tone of queasy misogyny that seems to waver between intentional and unintentional. I’m not sure tone-wise whether the movie ever creeps into unsettling voyeurism at the behest of women in explicit sexual peril, but it certainly is a distraction. It can get pretty hard to watch at times in this disturbing Swedish thriller. I hope the eventual sequels don’t follow this same queasy, upsetting tone but I also worry that this may be unfortunately part of the books/movies appeal.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an arresting and entertaining thriller that occasionally ducks a little too low into the gutter for my tastes (I’m really taken aback at how rape-heavy it is). The mystery works, though it’s more complicated thanks to an excess of detail and not necessarily a complex narrative. The characters, in particular Lisbeth Salander, are what make this movie work. Lisbeth is a captivating lead character and only promises to get more interesting in those future sequels. In many ways, this is a mystery for grown-ups, not just in content but also in approach, with the relaxed pace, subtlety, and moral ambiguity. Having never read the books, I can now see what all the fuss is about, and most of it is warranted. Still, I’m holding out my final judgment until those other two editions of the Adventures of Lisbeth and Crew hit theaters. The movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an exciting opening entry into the world of Lisbeth Salander, international woman of extreme ass kicking in fine fashion to boot.
Nate’s Grade: B+
Ewan McGregor (Angels & Demons, Big Fish) stars as The Ghost (no, he never earns a name even in the closing credits). He’s an expert ghost writer for best-selling autobiographies, and his services have been enlisted for his biggest client yet. Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is a former British prime minister currently embroiled in a legal scandal. He’s being accused of handing over British citizens to the United States to be tortured, all in the name of the War on Terror. Lang and his wife (Olivia Williams) have holed up in a fabulous house along Cape Cod, hiding from swarms of international media. The book’s due date is soon approaching and nobody is really pleased with the first draft. Mike, the first ghost writer, can’t help with the revisions on account that his abandoned car was discovered on a Massachusetts ferry and his body washed ashore the next day. The Ghost begins to suspect that Mike somehow stumbled across some very potent and damaging information, and the secrets are hidden somewhere in that manuscript.
Consider me pleasantly surprised at how effective this small little political thriller turned out to be. It doesn’t have an overworked narrative agenda, but the few things it does it does quite well. Firstly, it’s a pleasure for a thriller to actually make the audience feel as paranoid as the main character. He treats the idea of a conspiracy as nonsense to begin with, but then he starts to second-guess that car traveling behind. What about that guy two blocks down talking to himself? The screenplay achieves a palpable sense of paranoia, nicely placing you in the emotional state of our lead. You may run questions through your head as well, wondering who can ultimately be trusted, who to turn to next, what information to divulge and to whom, whether to get into the mysterious car or not. The best “thriller” moment is the Ghost waiting in his car and driving for cover, but even that is done in a style that doesn’t feel ripped from an action blockbuster. I’ve watched so many thrillers that get by on studious attention to the routines of the genre, and while The Ghost Writer doesn’t exactly break new ground, the movie keeps the threat of danger real. Actually, on that very note, The Ghost Writer does something unexpected, which is that it begins to lull you into a false sense of security or complacency, and then it robs you of that sense of security in the end. I enjoyed the film’s climax, though even at my screening I heard dissatisfied grumbles on the way out.
The movie is without exchanges of gunfire, explosions, or any nefarious, shadowy individual pressing a red button and laughing maniacally. The Ghost Writer exists in a world very similar to our own. It’s a conspiracy thriller in the same vein as The Constant Gardener or Michael Clayton. The menace is far more subdued; the danger getting tighter as we push forward yet the threat feels deceptively relaxed. It’s the kind of conspiracy thriller that feels like a workable conspiracy, which means that most of the dirty work is implied or done behind the scenes. This means that you have to work a little harder to engage with The Ghost Writer because it chooses not to spell out its litany of danger and those who are dangerous, but it also makes for a more effective experience of paranoia. The film even seems to follow this edict in its visual presentation. The movie has an eerie cool feel to it thanks to the downcast, icy blue-hued cinematography and sleek, sparse art direction, suggesting something is amiss but you can’t quite put your finger on what. It’s also continuously raining, a favorite, if overused, cinematic metaphor.
The Ghost Writer intelligently explores a current international imbroglio, making the political crisis relevant without reaching for a soapbox. The politics of torture is a topic that doesn’t appear to be disappearing any time soon. Torture also provides a fine, morally queasy subject matter to dive into and pick apart. Willful involvement in torture presents several ethical challenges for a character (unless you’re Jack Bauer), which can prove to be a meaty area to watch gifted actors chew over all that rueful decision-making and hand wringing. But alas, this is not a message movie like the slew of 2007 Iraq/torture films that fell flat, mostly because those lukewarm-to-awful movies felt a message supplanted entertainment. The Ghost Writer is a piece of entertainment first, an adult and a cerebral movie that has a striking sense of humor. The dialogue is surprisingly quippy, full of great one-liners amidst all the peril and uncertainty. So while the movie has some points about global politics, ownership and responsibility, the role of media and rewriting history, the movie doesn’t commit entertainment suicide trying to service a message.
Personally, I found the behind-the-scenes work of a ghost writer to be just as interesting, if not more so, than the conspiracy unraveling. The editing process can be fascinating for such a high profile political leader; deciding what moments to emphasize, what moments to forget, what narrative will be fashioned to make sure that a politician comes out on top, spiting his enemies without looking bitter. It’s a delicate balancing act and a precarious responsibility for the ghost writer, controlling a human beings life story for the annuls of mass market history. And these ghost writers get no recognition, even after mimicking the speaking/writing styles of their subject, and these are often subjects who are used to having their thoughts and opinions groomed, tested, and prepared by others, so what difference does their autobiographies make? I believe Sarah Palin could not write her own name without the aid of a ghost writer and/or a bevy of trained subordinates. While this storyline pretty much expectantly falls by the wayside once the conspiracy stuff emerges, I felt that the movie did a respectable service to honor ghost writers everywhere (Palin’s own ghost writer was Lynn Vincent).
The cast all seemed to dig their juicy roles, judging from the performances. Brosnan and Williams are obviously playing versions of Tony and Cherie Blair, so it’s fun to watch both actors enjoy their thinly veiled roles. Brosnan (Mamma Mia) is terrific and Williams (An Education) has this disquieting calm about her that only breaks in a handful of telling moments. Many actors have these small, sometimes one-scene, parts but they make the most of them. Kim Cattrall is spunky as Lang’s loyal personal assistant (her accent isn’t flawless, but that alone is better than her work in the Sex and the City movie). Tom Wilkinson (Duplicity) also shows up as an Ivy League professor with a mysterious background, and the man knows exactly how to play a treacherous gentleman. You may be shocked to see a bald-headed, bulldog-looking Jim Belushi appear on screen, and he’s good too as a publishing exec with no patience for niceties. But the movie is McGregor’s and the actor does not disappoint. It’s pleasing to watch his character transform from observer to actor. He’s a charismatic guy that speaks his mind and a worthy hero to root for.
And it took until the final paragraph for me to mention director Roman Polanski’s current legal woes. The Ghost Writer was Polanski’s last film he directed before being obtained by Swiss authorities and set to be expedited back to California for a 30-year-old rape charge. It’s hard not to read somewhat into the premise: a man hiding from authorities with a charge hanging over his head. This may well prove to be the last film we’ll see from the 77-year-old director judging from the pending legal issues. If it does indeed serve as the last piece in the career of a talented director, it will at least be a high point. At least Polanski’s last film wasn’t the abominable Ninth Gate.
Nate’s Grade: B+
This movie was a big letdown given the cast, the strange true origins of this fantastic tale, and even with the title. This odd little film feels tonally off. The material feels mishandled, mixing broad humor and with military satire and the dark realities of the war in Iraq. The premise is solid — a Pentagon program training psychic soldiers, men convinced they could run through walls or terminate goats through the power of thought. Why then does the movie feel so misguided and rudderless and, ultimately, boring? Never has such an outlandish concept, based on true events, felt so devoid of edge. The satire picks safe targets and the comedy remains farcically broad. I think the film’s downfall can ultimately be traced to the decision to turn this material into a fictional narrative. I would have preferred an actual documentary detailing the men, women, and goats involved in the real Pentagon program. If truth can be stranger than fiction, why dress it up and then dull it through fiction?
Nate’s Grade: C
I never would have fathomed that a movie with both “ninja” and “assassin” in its title would barely hold my interest. This is a movie I got up and did the dishes through. Over-the-top never felt so boring, and perhaps it comes down to the flimsiest of stories strung together to connect the various ninja fights. It really does the bare minimum narrative-wise to get to the next opportunity for bloodletting, and oh what bloodletting! This is an extremely bloody movie but its power is undone because the violence is too stylized. Blood sprays like geysers and every slash of the flesh unleashes a balletic dance of painterly, soupy blood. The movie might work as disposable trash if only the action sequences were exciting. This isn’t a ninja movie but some half-assed video game. These aren’t Bruce Lee Ninjas, these ninjas can literally vanish into thin air before your eyes and they blend into the shadows. They are supernatural creatures that defy our traditional notions of what defines a ninja. This ain’t it. The characters all take such brutal beatings, and they spill tanker truckloads of blood, that it’s a wonder they can even stand let alone fight. There are a fee snazzy fight sequences but only thanks to choice in geography. The choppy editing only makes matters worse. I expected much more from the director of V for Vendetta. Ninja Assassin is just an un-engaging, hyper violent cartoon with a dimwitted story and little reason to care. The action isn’t even that good because the editing and lighting conspire to make sure you won’t be able to comprehend what’s going on. The best part of this entire damn stupid movie is the animated segment at the start of the closing credits. So have fun washing dishes until then, folks.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Stephen Soderbergh’s comic farce is highly amusing from start to finish. I even watched it twice and still found myself shaking my head and chuckling in bafflement. That’s the best way to describe the tone of the film — baffled laughter. Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitaker, a corporate whistleblower whose grasp on the truth is tenuous at best. Damon’s character is a cut-up and his delusions of being a spy plus his scatter-brained narration are as fascinating as they are hilarious. This guy thinks he’s James Bond. And yet the film, while deeply comic, never comes across as snide or condescending even if most of the laughs come from Whitaker’s disconnect from reality. The film has a deliberately ironic tongue-in-cheek vibe, from the silly yet undeniably jaunty kazoo-aided score by Marvin Hamlisch to even the amber-colored cinematography (like the film was shot through the prism of a honey jar), the movie is an entertaining series of blunders and revelations. Damon is charismatic and deeply funny and Whitaker makes for such an interesting main character exactly because he is so unpredictable and unreliable. He doles out the truth in pieces like a kid caught. The Informant! is light and breezy but with some well-honed psychology of rationalization and self-deception. I don’t know how true this supposed true-life tale really is, but it’s a hell of a fun tale.
Nate’s Grade: B+