DVD Tuesday: ‘Kick-Ass’ and ‘The Ghost Writer’

by W. Andrew Powell

Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass

Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass

New this week on DVD and Blu-ray: Aaron Johnson stars as the self-styled superhero, Kick-Ass; infamous director Roman Polanski debuts his stylish thriller, The Ghost Writer; plus a look at the tween-friendly Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong
Director: Matthew Vaughn

Rated: 8/10

Stand aside Wolverine, Spider-Man, and all those other super-powered heroes, there’s a new set of crime fighters in town, and they’re doing things a little differently.

Kick-Ass is the latest comic-book adaptation to try to take the hero story and make it into something new, and although it was influenced by most of the superhero movies that have come before it, most notably Spider-Man, this is a uniquely fun adventure for a change.

Based on Mark Millar’s Marvel series of the same name, Kick-Ass is about an average, dorky, comic-book-loving teenager named Dave Lizewski, played by Aaron Johnson, who decides that he can’t just sit around any more and ignore the daily injustice around him.

While the girls ignore him at school, Dave decides to secretly give himself an alter-ego that no one can ignore. Buying a green and yellow diving suit off the internet, Dave tries to train himself to be a hero for those people out there who need a little saving, and it takes just one incident to turn him into a national sensation.

This not only sparks interest in his alter-ego, Kick-Ass, but also inspires some others to come out of hiding and do some good as well.

Dave’s plan to be a hero starts out okay, and his MySpace page is the stuff of legend after he saves the day, but it only takes one bad move to turn everything sour. Inadvertently stumbling into the den of some heavily armed thugs, Dave is easily outmatched by the crew of criminals. he is only saved thanks to one little girl named Mindy and her dad, played by Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage, respectively.

While Dave has been trying to prove himself as a hero, Mindy already is a hero, trained by her father to be the ultimate weapon against thugs and criminals. Calling herself Hit-Girl, Mindy saves the day by wiping out the entire room full of bad guys using a few very sharp knives as her father, AKA Big Daddy, keeps a watchful eye on her progress.

For Dave, trouble begins because no one else actually knows that Hit-Girl and Big Daddy exist, so when mob boss Frank D’Amico, played by Mark Strong, discovers some of his men have been killed, Frank takes it personally and starts plotting to take Kick-Ass out.

Filmed in Toronto, which sits in for New York City, Kick-Ass has a dark and serious back-story, hilarious script, and bloody good action throughout. It was everything and more than I could have expected in an action movie, particularly because it’s also funny, and a little heart-warming.

Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to lighten even the bloodiest and most action-packed scenes with clever, comic asides, and some light romance between Dave and his dream crush at school.

Vaughn also seems influenced by films like The Watchmen adaptation, or even The Dark Knight, giving characters like Big Daddy grit, and heart that helps grounds the film in a slightly darker reality.

In terms of casting, the whole troupe is appealing, especially Cage, Macready, and Johnson. Cage gets the darkest scenes, and Macready is just amazing as this tough-as-nails kid, but Johnson is an admirable lead as this geeky, entertaining hero. He shows both heart and ingenuity in this role, which certainly demanded a lot of him.

At the same time, Vaughn knows how to lighten the film’s dark mood, as he does in many of the scenes where Mindy is taking out bad guys. He also makes great use of the lighter character like Chris D’Amico, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Dave’s best friends, Marty and Todd, played by Clark Duke and Evan Peters.

What’s notable is that Kick-Ass is a lot more bloody and violent than most people will expect from the original trailers. That violence works in different ways throughout the film, but in particular I think it grounds the film, which otherwise would have been far too fluffy. It may be a turn off for some who might merely expect a Spider-Man level of violence, but if anything, Kick-Ass is like a funny version of what the recent Wolverine film should have been; a fact Vaughn even lightly touches on.

After a fairly light summer in terms of epic films at the box office, Kick-Ass is tough to beat, and well worth checking out as a rental if nothing else. The good news is also that, if you enjoyed Kick-Ass as much as I did, there will likely be more films to come down the road.

Also debuting this week…

The Ghost Writer
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams
Director: Roman Polanski

Director Roman Polanski has been one of the most discussed filmmakers of the last few decades, for both the heights of his career and the lows of his personal life, so it’s always intriguing to see what reaction his film projects receive from critics and fans.

Filmed in Germany, which stands in for London and other locations, The Ghost Writer stars Ewan McGregor as a British author who is called in to finish the incomplete memoirs of a former British Prime Minister with a chequered past.

For the unnamed ghost writer, the problem is that the previous writer was killed in a freak accident, and as he works to complete the book, a fresh batch of allegations is brought to light. He also discovers a connection that may suggest the former world leader has a dark secret that is worth killing to protect.

Dark and moody, the political thriller only opened to a limited number of theatres, but on DVD it could prove to be a big sleeper hit. Critics widely praised the film, which was heralded as elegant and masterful.

“Polanski at 76 provides a reminder of directors of the past who were raised on craft, not gimmicks, and depended on a deliberate rhythm of editing rather than mindless quick cutting,” wrote Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Starring: Zachary Gordon, Steve Zahn, Devon Bostick, Chloe Grace Moretz
Director: Thor Freudenthal

Based on Jeff Kinney’s acclaimed novel, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the story of Greg, played by Zachary Gordon, a young kid trying to survive those early, formative years in your average middle school.

Surrounded by morons, set upon by bullies, and avoiding wedgies and swirlies at every turn, Greg dreams of the day when he’ll be famous and universally liked, but until then he will just have to try to follow all those unspoken school-yard rules, and make a few friends.

Following Greg’s “journal,” a title he insists upon, rather than the less impressive “diary,” the film is a coming-of-age story that has “summer holidays” written all over it. With it’s unique kid appeal, and obvious charm, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a great bet for parents looking for a fun weekend activity.

Although it received great reviews from a majority of top critics, Ella Taylor of the Village Voice does point out a few flaws.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid is sweet and funny at either end,” she wrote, “but in between, it sags with endless repetition of gross bodily functions and Greg’s torment at the hands of larger, angrier, or more popular kids — in that order.”

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