(On Cable TV, September 2014) I disliked several aspects of the original Kick-Ass, so in saying that this sequel isn’t as bad merely means that I’m not as repulsed by the results. Not that it’s all that better: the same hypocrisy that permeated the original is on full display here, as an attempt to somehow satirize superheroes conventions ends up doing exactly the same thing, except with extra puerile arrogance. Kick-Ass 2 seems inordinately pleased with its ability to swear as much at it likes, or to indulge is as much pointless violence. The film isn’t merely hobbled by its male gaze –it’s made actively unpleasant by its teenaged male gaze: When more mature viewers are already convinced that taking up a superhero identity is for idiots, the film’s inevitable attempt to show normalcy turning on the characters is far more annoying than satisfying. There are a few good things to say about the film’s younger actors (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Chloë Grace Moretz have all grown up a bit since the previous film, and it generally suits them) but Jeff Wadlow’s direction is far more ordinary than Matthew Vaughn’s work in the first film, and whatever shocking qualities the original had are here dispersed into a multiplicity of calculated subplots shot indifferently. So: not as unpleasant, but still not good. Hopefully there will never be a third film.
(On Cable TV, September 2014) Given the renewed interest in self-aware exploitation filmmaking lately (largely thanks to the Tarantino/Rodriguez 2007 film Grindhouse), American Grindhouse offers a quick and entertaining primer on the history of seedy disreputable filmmaking. A talking-head documentary with a copious amount of footage, the film reaches back to the beginning of cinema and makes its way to the present in describing the evolution of less-respectable cinema, ending with the somewhat surprising conclusion that exploitation cinema merged with the mainstream sometime during the seventies as blockbusters such as Jaws took on the lessons of grindhouse cinema. (I’m not so sure –there is alternative cinema everywhere still, although I’ll agree that it’s harder to define as a single coherent entity against a non-existent mainstream) The footage shown and movies discussed are enough to provide anyone with a list of must-see titles, while the various people interviewed collectively reinforce the film’s various theses and explain various topics. (The best interviewee has to be director John Landis, as profane and entertaining as he is knowledgeable.) Writer/Director Elijah Drenner has done a pretty good job of condensing decades of social changes in a mere 80 minutes, illuminating a number of sub-genres along the way. Everyone will be reassured to learn that a film describing lurid movies features equally-lurid footage. American Grindhouse is definitely worth a look, especially if you’re already sympathetic to the subject.