Category Archives: Cinematic

A Soldier’s Story

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-PosterA Film Review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Opening the flood gates of super-hero themed films for 2014 is Captain America: The Winter Soldier – an over-the-top, thrill ride that simultaneously builds on the Marvel Studios overarching film mythology while doing a fantastic job of modernizing a hero’s role in the constant fight for freedom.

Returning to the role of our star-spangled hero is the always compelling Chris Evans. Bold, built like a tank and beautiful, Evans fills not only the costume perfectly but also the role by giving audiences a believable and honest performance of a man lost in a time and a hero looking for answers. While extremely naive to the realities of politics and government agencies, Captain America still holds true to himself and the thematic goodness of what he believes America is and what it should stand for.

Set after the devastation of New York in the 2012 film The Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. (America’s Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) has kept the Captain busy, sending him on missions, stopping terrorist threats, and so on. However, it is quickly becoming harder to know who to trust while the freedom he believes in begins coming at a higher cost.

Enter a new threat: The Winter Soldier – an elite assassin with a secret past that can perform his assignments with amazing precision and unbelievable accuracy.

While very muddy with backstabbing and conspiracy connections as the film unfolds, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. More espionage thriller than the expected super-hero film, I found myself extremely engrossed in story’s arc and, by the end, I was pleased at how big of an impact that this film could have on the rest of the film universe – something I did not really feel in some of the other one-off hero films (specifically Iron Man 2 and 3, Thor 2: The Dark World). Plus, while a component of the film is very personal to the main character, it was lovely to hear gasps from my fellow audience members who were not familiar with The Winter Soldier and his true identity.

The Positives:
In my opinion, there are a ton of good things happening in this film. From the action to actors, I found it very easy to let go and just fall into the story. Even as it weaved deeper and deeper into its own history, I never found it difficult to comprehend what was going on or get confused by the various components. While, with any film like this, there are moments of ridiculous exposition that will hammer home either the primary themes or the purposes of certain characters, I was pleasantly surprised that everything still felt very fluid less based on coincidence. Like I said before, I love, love, love the consequences that are established in this film and, without giving any spoilers, what it could mean for the entire Marvel Studios universe. It presents a new dimension of vulnerability that is both wonderful for dramatic development while also reestablishing a menace that will affect each and every hero in the Avengers.

Chris Evans. Do I really need to say any more? While I am not the biggest proponent of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), I do feel Chris Evans was the perfect fit for this role. Quickly my opinion was solidified with his performance in The Avengers. Here, he is amazing. While never looking stupid, Evans wonderfully portrays the ignorant hero while confidently following his heart and jumping into action. At the same time Scarlet Johansson returns to her role at The Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, and while, at times, her character has seemed lost in the grandness of the other heroes, here she is perfect. Adding a snarky, new level to the playing field, she presents a fantastic soiled balance to Captain America’s cleanliness.

Also, I don’t think enough can be said about Anthony Mackie and his portrayal of Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon). Fresh, likable and interesting, Mackie adds a great deal of dimension to a character that in many different situations could be left as just another stereotypical side role. Witty with great appeal, Mackie proves his worth and makes a solid case for being included in future Marvel films.

The Negatives:
While in theory, the Winter Soldier as title villain is amazing and, from what I can remember, this film does a fantastic job adapting Ed Brubaker’s comic book tale (he is also credited on the film), the character is never really given room to full establish himself. It’s clear he is a badass with an extremely important past and in our first encounters with him, he proves his worth greatly. However, with all different conspiracy levels of the film, his silent killer aspects make him a little too quiet and, by the end of the film, he becomes just another heavy for the hero to get around. Without spoiling anything, I feel his role could have been far more significant to the core of the story versus, in the end, just feeling like a small part to a greater threat. This could be intentional since, as a symbol, the Winter Soldier is the perfect protagonist to Captain America and as soldiers, they both are relegated to following orders, but, especially since his name is in the title, I wish there was a little more.

In contrast, I wish there were far fewer explosions. Where I feel this film really works is in the more intimate and, for lack of a better term, grounded action moments. The third act is based on three massive air-based threats, that while wonderfully show off the Falcon and validates his role in the film, quickly disintegrates into massive explosions, large amounts of debris and utter destruction. In my opinion, while spectacular to look at, large special effects and set pieces like these over-power the importance of the characters and overshadows them as characters in a way that negatively impacts the story. For example, an explosion goes off that separates the Captain and the Winter Soldier, distracting from their connection and ending their moment of action. For me, watching those two characters fight was far more engrossing than breaking glass and fire and stopping their moments added an unnecessary break in quality action.

And … well … that’s it.

I sincerely enjoyed this film. Evans is perfect as Captain America and as a leading man; he elevates this film and clearly has helped inspire confidence on what he can accomplish with the character. With a high-quality story as its base, I believe fan boys will be pleased with its dedication to its source material while more mainstream movie watchers with just enjoy a solid film experience. With the success Marvel Studios has been having with these Phase 2 set of films, it is no doubt that these films with just continue to get stronger and stronger. Hopefully the next set of superhero films from Fox and Sony (X-Men: Days of Future Past and Spider-Man 2) can live up to their hype and the expectations that Disney has laid out this far.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens today April 4, 2014.

4 out of 5 Encrypted USB Drives That Can Be Analyzed at the Apple Store

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Kansas City FilmFest

Co-Directors Todd Norris and Mitch Brian experiment in film. They have been creating promotional videos for theater companies such as the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s show The Rainmaker.

Co-Directors Todd Norris and Mitch Brian experiment in film. They have been creating promotional videos for theater companies such as the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s show The Rainmaker.

Around 130 films – shorts, feature lengths and animated – will be part of the Kansas City FilmFest 2014 in early April. In its 18th year, the film festival has grown film by film, filmmaker by filmmaker. Founder Fred Andrews created the festival to provide a venue for local and independent filmmakers to screen their films.

Veronica Elliott Loncar, executive director for the Kansas City FilmFest, honors Andrews’ initiative, along with an active board and a group of advisors. “Our mission is to bring films to Kansas City and promote those local films and filmmakers. I spend a lot of time, meeting and talking to organizations in Kansas City. We strive to create relationships and partnerships. We have been part of our community for 18 years. We know that many artists are also filmmakers and when we unite with others, we raise the awareness for everyone. Film is a way to celebrate the art of storytelling in the form of film. Film is an art form and another avenue for many artists in our community.”

Loncar believes the movies need to be celebrated as an art form. “It’s an art form that captures storytelling. We need to help artists and those particular filmmakers understand the invaluable joy they give.” The festival has grown to need two cinema theaters: the Alamo and the Cinemark on the Plaza. “We are growing and simply we need more seats. It’s a joy when roughly 70 filmmakers come in with their films. Kansas City likes to talk to them about the blood, sweat and tears it takes to make the films. All of us want to know what inspires filmmakers.”

Loncar started working on films as a production assistant. Her roles with independent films have included craft service, makeup, props, producing and more. “I learned as much as I could. I worked freelance on commercials. I can appreciate what filmmakers do.”

Another event in the festival is the Reel Spirit contest. Loncar says an entire day will be given. “We want them to have their own day. It’s Saturday April 5. The kids and families enjoy the attention.” The Kansas City Women in Film and Television will also get a day dedicated to them. “The focus on scripts and screen plays will be April 8. We want an evening where the actors can attend the staged readings. After all, filmmakers are often actors. It is a nice crossover,” she says.

“I want people in Kansas City to see films that they might not normally see,” Loncar says. “We are excited to see films as well. There is a sense of pride to have a festival in Kansas City. When people come out to support films, it continually raises the bar on what quality is put forth to an audience. Everyone gets excited when good films are put in front of audiences. Soon we will be mentioned in the same breath as those larger film festivals.

Loncar also believes that people still enjoy watching films together. “Watching a film on the big screen is a unique shared experience … truly a shared cultural experience. One big event I am looking forward to is sharing Ernest and Celestine, an animated film nominated for best animated feature.”

Due to the deadline of KC Studio, the selected films will not be announced until March 1. However, visit KC Studio’s website after March 1 to see the choices. However, several local filmmakers entered films into the contest for judging. Todd Norris is  one such filmmaker. He spends much of his time making short films and music videos. Not only is he
competing in the Kansas City FilmFest, but also other festivals such as the Los Angeles fear film festival called Shriek Fest.

“The first time I ever shot a film, I was in sixth grade,” Norris says. “If I was objective about describing my style, I would describe my work as a mix of comedy and horror. I usually try to put these elements together in my films; the genres of humor and horror are
two of my favorites. As an example,  a favorite is Tremors. It’s an enjoyable and unpretentious film that is not necessarily high art and that seems to lend to its success. I think that ability  to fly below the radar. However, I enjoy trying to stretch myself. I did a romantic drama a couple of years ago called Candy Apple Red. I really do try to do a little bit of everything.”

Norris works often with Mitch Brian, a filmmaker, screenwriter, and visiting assistant professor at UMKC. The two men have worked on several videos for the bands Tiny Horse and the Grisly Hand.  Norris says the video Ride, by Tiny Horse, fronted by Abigail Henderson, is a testament to her legacy. “It’s difficult to watch. She helped bring people together. She and others in the music community founded the Midwest Music Foundation, a group that sponsors health-care programs and provides financial relief to local musicians who have suffered a health-care crisis. She died at the end of August 2013.”

Grisly Hand has an Americana old school, country/rock sound, Norton says. “They are a very upbeat band and that allowed us to be very creative. When they asked me to direct the video, I felt honored. I admire the band and the song. I took the reins to direct a goofy and fun video. On top of it, we have received good press for the videos.” The two men are also working on a video for The LateNight Callers, another local band.

Entering film festival competitions is a toss-up, Norris says. “You can make a great film and the judges don’t care for it. Art, after all, is subjective … so dependent on their moods
and personal tastes. There is no strategy. I worked on a film with Gary Huggins called First Date. We submitted to other film festivals and we were despondent, but then we made it into Sundance.”

Norris is his own cinematographer and editor. “I have worked as a cinematographer on other films from other local filmmakers, and I enjoy that job just as much as I do directing.” He served as cinematographer for First Date. “It is thrilling to have a venue in Kansas City to screen your work and to be judged by professionals and potentially win. Truly, film festivals can be a catalyst to do even more good work. As a filmmaker, the festivals force you to raise the bar. Certainly people will make their art, but a film festival spurs you on to meet deadlines because you want to try to enter a film for
that competition.”

He also likes to make short films and enter those. “I do enjoy short films. I realize I am a better sprinter than a marathon runner. It’s like capturing a one-act play.” As new categories are made for film festival contests, Norris believes it is because of the ever-changing way in which younger filmmakers are sharing their craft with such tools as YouTube. “It comes a lot easier to younger people to use these resources. It’s a different way to get entertainment. Mitch and I may be working on a web series as well. It’s a brand-new form of storytelling we want to jump into, plus Mitch and I have been doing short promos for several live theaters in the city such as the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, the Living Room, and the Unicorn.”

Other Kansas City filmmakers of note include Tony Ladesich, Gary Huggins, Christopher Good, Michelle Davidson, Patrick Rea, Bryce Young, Kendall Sinn, Jeremy Osbern and Lyn Elliot. Young is one of the nominations for his work on various web series including Withered World. The category was added this year. Learn more at kcfilmfest.org.

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Everything Truly is Awesome

Everything_Is_Awesome-TheLegoMovie
A film review of The Lego Movie by Alexander Morales

There are so many reasons why you should go see The Lego Movie. Seriously … so many amazing, wonderful, hilarious reasons. It’s that good. That smart. That heart-warmingly sweet. From the fantastic voice acting to the unique animation style, The Lego Movie is the perfect antidote to warm families up this snowed over season.

Admittedly, at first, I was a little unsure. When I saw the trailer, it was easy to brush off this film as just another movie marketing ploy to hypnotize young people into buying even more over-priced toys (see Hasbro’s Transformers and G.I. Joe snoozefests). But now … now I am happy to report that this genius movie marketing ploy to hypnotize young people into buying over-priced toys is chalk full of every reason I was obsessed with Legos as a child and why, as an adult, I am still secretly in love with them. (Truth be told, I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to play with these little blocks of imagination crack.)

With a constant smile on my face, I was delighted to follow the misadventures of Emmett Brickowoski (voiced my up and coming “it” guy Chris Pratt) as he and a small team of “master-builders” fight back against the evil and overpowering menace of Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and, without shame, I immediately went home and started searching Craigslist for any and every low-priced building set I could find.

Overflowing with talent, this film combines the voices of some of the most recognizable live actors and actresses working today with a seemingly never-ending ton of pop culture’s most famous characters, heroes and uh … things in Lego form. Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Bree, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and on and on and on lend their voices adding so many levels of fun that every other scene is a lovely surprise.

By the way, to say I loved this film is completely an understatement.

Incredibly intelligent, willing to make fun of itself and amazingly meta, these building blocks of joy break completely through the fourth wall and oddly create a touching story in its third act that helps bridge the gap between the kids and adults in the audience. While the overall story seems pretty basic – yet another tale based on the concept of “the one” hero that will save the day – the Legos brand uses its variety to keep the plot line fresh, moving forward and always remaining visually stunning.

Now, usually, it is around this time that I begin to point out the few flaws so that I can keep my reviews balanced, fair and reasonable. But not today. While some of the jokes may land flat with the kiddos, I was happy to see that both by 5 and 2 year-olds were laughing and following the story without any issues. At the same time, where I feel some animated films could do with a shorter run time for kids, I observed that my two little ones were glued to their seats and very much caught in the endless loop of singing “Everything is Awesome!” on the way home.

Seriously, enough is enough. Stop reading this. Stop wasting another minute and go see this film. I’m already planning my second viewing and I know I will love every rewatched minute of it. The families been cooped up in the house these last few days of Snowmageddon 2014 and this film will cure the frozen blues.

5 out of 5 Kragles

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Joyce Maynard and Labor Day: A Worthy Read and Lovely Film

By Kellie Houx

I usually don’t write in first person. As a reporter and editor, it’s better to let those I interview tell the story and I simply serve as the conduit. However, a chance to review a movie and speak to the author of the source material for said movie, I figured I could not only share my ideas, but the brief roundtable interview with the author.

Maynard came in to help promote the movie Labor Day, based on her 2009 book of the same title. On Jan. 21, Maynard, movie critics, members of book clubs and members of the Kansas City Women in Film and Television watched the film, directed by Jason Reitman, director of quirky films such as Young Adult, Up in the Air, Juno and Thank You for Smoking. The film is set in 1987 a few days before Labor Day.

Author Joyce Maynard and actor Josh Brolin arrive at Ryerson Theatre for Labor Day premier at the Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 7, 2013 Peter Bregg for Paramount Pictures ©

Author Joyce Maynard and actor Josh Brolin arrive at Ryerson Theatre for Labor Day premier at the Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 7, 2013
Peter Bregg for Paramount Pictures ©

Here is the basic premise … With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, 13-year-old Henry spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele — a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to Foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly’s with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his “Husband for a Day” coupon book, he still can’t make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life’s most valuable lessons including how to throw a baseball, perform minor home repairs, change a flat tire and worry about the love of his mother.

For me, the movie and the book are paced slowly, like humidity dripping lazily in the early September air. It is not fast-paced. There are no explosions or radical shifts of movement. It’s a film that is paced like a book – gentle and slow as a summer heat hanging in the late summer sky. To me, both the book and the film move like Bridges of Madison County. Remember that one about the freelance photographer who happens upon the unfulfilled life of an Italian born Iowa housewife and the two find passion in many things?

Maynard has been a published writer for more than 40 years and has never visited Kansas City on a book tour or film junket. Her book, To Die For, was adapted for film in 1995.  During the roundtable, Maynard spoke on many topics from the choice of language to making pies. In the book and in the film, there is no swearing. “I felt no need,” she says. “I understand the power of language. I was raised by people who love language. The joy is rediscovering language and not turning toward the world-weary nature.”

However, the topic of sex for the 13-year-old lead character is not without its conversation. “I believe in talking about the difficult things. This might be about what occurs in the bedroom.” The idea that the story is told from the teenager’s point of view rather than the mother or Frank is important. We experience the world from his side of the wall.”

Of course, the other thing that Henry learns and carries with him into adulthood is how to make pies, thanks to Frank. Pie making has never been so sexy until you see it in the hands of Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. It’s sweet as the three make a peach pie. If anyone is interested, Maynard shares her pie-making skills, and they are substantial, on http://curious.com/joycemaynard/joyce-maynards-homemade-apple-pie. If you make a pie following her directions, Maynard likes to see the results.

The actor, Gattlin Griffith, is a terrific Henry with incredibly expressive eyes and a soulful interpretation of this teenage boy. He provides the sympathy that you want him to offer his mother, but he still has some definitive teenage boy traits.

Maynard, as a single mother of three children, understands raising boys. While she didn’t struggle with depression as Adele, the mother in the movie, she raised two sons and one daughter. “In the novel as well as the movie, the child is responsible for a parent. Of course, one of my sons did make me a ‘Husband for the Day’ booklet of coupons. I realized that I can only be one parent, I can’t be both. There is a space that needs to be filled.”

“I have always admired good writing and the first person I write for is me,” she says. “I don’t want to write fairy tales, but I am a romantic mixed with being an idealist.” Within the book and the film, Adele, the main female character, deals with depression that stems from an incredible trauma and women’s health issues. I asked her how she understood the circumstances so well. “Readers tell me stories. I have fans all over this country and people tell me their personal tales. Some of the stories are intimate. Perhaps it is healing to share with a friend who you know through her writing. I know it can be painful, but I am honored they share stories with me. For audience members and readers, it’s healing to get to cry.” And I did cry.

Before the novel had even been printed, Reitman had read the galleys, the proofs before final printing, and called Maynard to tell her how much he loved the novel. “He said it made him cry. He told me that he wanted to make my book into a film,” she says. “I trusted him because of his films and once you entrust a director, you step away.” Reitman not only directed, but he wrote the screenplay based on Maynard’s work.

So should you see this movie? Yes, as one who grew up in the 1980s, I appreciated the look back. I also cherish good storytelling. Sure, I like escapism, but this is a sweeter and gentler escapism.

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Everyday Heroes

WeAreSuperman-KCS-Online

Poster used with permission by the filmmakers.

Most filmmakers, especially those who make documentaries, want to see their films stand for more than a few showings. With We Are Superman, directed by Kevin Bryce, the documentary now finds a ready audience with Communities Creating Opportunity, the organization related to PICO, a faith-based community organization aimed at social justice that unites diverse cultures, ethnicities, faith traditions, and experiences. Often, the groups organize to celebrate inclusion or fair wages.

Bryce graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a degree in Communications. As a student, he also worked for the university paper. The summer after graduating, he entered an internship with an organization at 31st and Troost. It didn’t take long to understand the newsworthiness of what he was witnessing: a grass roots movement by both public and private citizens to address the attitudes toward Troost and revitalize its physical and psychological foundation. We are Superman is an emotional testament to a select few who are working tirelessly in the heart of Kansas City at the corner of 31 Street and Troost Avenue; working to transform a dividing line into a gathering place.

Bryce is clear that making this documentary has been an education and privilege for him. “I want to tell the story of people who have devoted their lives to the revitalization of the Troost Corridor.” The documentary headlined the 2013 Kansas City Film Fest and played at the 2013 Middle of the Map Fest. “As we look to 2014 we are excited to see the film begin to have a life of it’s own. We Are Superman is out on DVD and we don’t have any costs or stipulations on public screenings. What we’re seeing is many churches, nonprofits, and social action groups hosting their own screenings; I’ve heard of 4 thus far and more being planned. We as filmmakers have made ourselves available to come and participate where needed but what’s most important for us to see is the community taking ownership of the story of Troost and stepping up–gathering together to transform the Troost divide.”

Andrew Kling, who leads communications at CCO in Kansas City, says the documentary goes hand in hand with CCO’s efforts. “We have worked hard to foster powerful change in the Kansas City metro for 35 years. We Are Superman profiles the efforts of members of our local community to overcome the deep wounds in our city caused by racism and economic greed. It is a striking and beautifully shot movie, one with an informative insight into where we are as a city, how we got here, and a glimpse of what we can do to restore our community,” he says. “What Kevin has done is a beautiful job lifting up Kansas City and the community. There is a tenderness in the subject.”

In the documentary, many community leaders and civic patrons offer their support for change, but Kling also notes that Bryce and his team deserve significant credit. “We know that artists are significant storytellers and the concepts of pain, suffering and hope in film far exceed anything that policy papers could ever do. It’s more than political speeches can do. The film fits right along with our organization’s responsibility to tell the stories that are facing the community. In each artist, there is a heart for justice.”

Some of those representing city and civic groups in the documentary include Kansas City Major Sly James, Rodney Knott of ReEngage Inc., Father Paisius Altschul of Reconciliation Services, Molly Fleming-Pierre of CCO at Signature Gathering Training, Sister Berta Sailer of Operation Breakthrough, Anita Maltbia of the Green Impact Zone, and Carol Grimaldi of Brush Creek Community Partners.

One such effort for CCO is to bring payday loans companies in line. “When you see communities bled out by organized greed,” Kling says, “it sticks with you. Just like Kevin, we are trying to tell a story that is impactful. At the premiere, Kevin talked about his hope that people will take this movie and understand the issues a little more; it is our hope as well. Our goal is that more choose to step up and realize that injustice doesn’t happen far away, but it is here. With cinematic and visual artists … we have the artistic community here to not only elevate the pain, but also the stories of perseverance. Artists are often at the forefront of those who want to bring about changes. It is so encouraging when people step forward.”

Kling hopes that congregations and others interested in their community seek out the DVD. “We want everyone to see the documentary. There is a reason that Troost is a dividing line and we need people to see the documentary and be challenged. We are living in a community that is hurting. The pain in the community can be named and then with that, there can be an honest conversation. The key is that no one will do this for us; we have to change the community ourselves. We hope those who see it are moved and inspired to do something. I hope they comprehend the movie and value those that are bettering the community and consider joining one of the groups. I moved back here to join CCO. I know what I want my city to look like.”

CCO will continue the discussion about Troost into 2014, Kling says. “It’s ongoing. For us, it’s about continuing the dignity of people. As we are a faith-based organization, we believe we aren’t living our faith if we aren’t lifting people up. It’s not about accepting the status quo. Everything we do is to advance others. If people act out of fear and greed, the community suffers. We will be doing some civic engagement, looking at health care access and equity. There are citizenship issues and economic equity. A man we work with makes $8 an hour and works 70 hours a week. He can’t tell his story because he doesn’t have time. It’s a luxury he doesn’t have, but we can lift up his story. We will expand opportunities on both sides of Troost. We need to work toward changing the circumstances that encourage the violence. Nothing stops a bullet like a job. It’s about creating new opportunities together.”

To purchase the documentary, visit http://wearesuperman-themovie.com/.

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Day Dreaming

The_Secret_Life_of_Walter_Mitty_1274874A Film Review of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by Alexander Morales

Sweet, ambitious, charming and interesting are probably the best ways to describe director (and actor) Ben Stiller’s newest addition to the holiday season film barrage The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Based on a short story written by James Thurber in 1939, this new adaptation adds a modern twist to the tale and, unfortunately at times, gets just as lost in it’s own imagination as the main character does.

Following the character of the film’s title, Walter Mitty is an introverted, hard-working everyman looking for what everyone trapped in their own existence is looking for … something more. Whether it be love, adventures never taken or words never spoken, Walter is a man held down by the would ofs and could ofs of his existence. And, like all heroes, when a opportunity presents itself, Walter has to figure out if he can be the man he’s always dreamed about or just the guy who everyone thinks he is.

As an overall film, Walter Mitty is drop dead gorgeous and Stiller has much to be proud of. In its unique scope, the cinematography and score make it feel like an independent film while at the same time, present the audience with a large scale backdrop of action sequences, foreign landscapes and an art direction that is wonderful to watch come together. The blandness of Walter’s routine is contrasted so well against real life that the film grows from a greyish blue palette to a beautiful organic rainbow of experience.

At the same time, I don’t think Stiller and his co-star, Kristen Wiig, will get enough credit this year for their excellent, patient and nuanced performances. Known mainly for their goofiness, both performers give one hell of an effort and both succeed greatly. Wiig is truly a hilarious and brave comic, and while she is talented at making people laugh, here she quickly stole my heart as she lit up the screen with her own brand of nervousness, uncertainty and sweetness. Along with that, Stiller brings something exceptional to the character of Walter and walks a very thin line throughout the film that keeps him grounded, intelligent and someone to care about. Not an easy task when, at times, the character could have been simply disregarded as a high functioning crazy man with regular bouts of hallucinations/delusions.

It is also worth pointing out that there are two supporting characters that, while having limited screen time, truly add a dynamic weight to the story and round it out beautifully. Shirley Maclaine and Sean Penn each share a special relationship with the lead character and both earn every second they are featured on screen. Excellent.

In terms of the story, Walter’s adventure is an unbalanced detective story that, while odd, really makes for a fun ride. It’s hard to say how much time actually passes while Walter is on his quest, but, the experiences had and the people met keep the interest level high, and while clearly we expect our hero to rise to the occasion, the path never makes Walter seem more than what he is – and I greatly appreciate that. Thanks so a solid back story married with quality screen time, Walter is able to express himself in realistic terms and thus, his development as a character seems more genuine, honest and believable.With that being said, the film is by no means perfect. Lost in it’s own self awareness, Walter’s day dreams, while interesting at first, quickly dissolve into stream of conscious strangeness, becoming glaring distractions that made it difficult for me, at times, to take the film seriously. There are two sequences, in particular, that seemed like direct challenges to my ability to stay focused and, unfortunately, by the time they were over, I found just asking myself – “what the hell?” Stiller does so well developing and presenting Walter as a tangible, believable, honest individual and sadly, the over-the-top bloating of his imagination make you question his sanity. Of course, not all the day dreams are like this. In comparison, there is a wonderful sequence where he imagines Wiig singing to him for a distinct purpose and it fits perfectly into the narrative and development of the character’s purpose. Clearly, not all day dreams could fit this perfectly but it’s worth pointing out the simplest of all the sequences is also the most effective and the most noteworthy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. While at times flawed, Stiller needs and should be commended for what he has accomplished with this film – both in terms of acting and directing. Good pacing, solid cinematography and a pair of leads who it give it their all make up for any and all of this films shortcomings. For an extremely charming, fun experience at the theaters this holiday season, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a perfect way to experience something new.

4 out 5 Cell phones with amazing long distance reception

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On the Road Again

the_hobbit__the_desolation_of_smaug_wallpaper_by_1love1jesus-d6afef2A film review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug by Alexander Morales

It’s the holiday season and you know what that means … a Baggins is having an adventure!

Back once again for a holiday release is the second film installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel “The Hobbit.” Helmed by the one true master of modern day Middle-Earth, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will lay waste to all other films this weekend by upping the ante on action, character development and fun.

Picking up nearly immediately where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ended, fans will find their heroes still on the run from their enemy and trying, every so desperately, to fulfill their quest and reclaim the Dwarf’s kingdom under the Lonely Mountain. However, with hints of a returning evil, a landscape divided by racism and our primary hero burdened with a new “precious” item, the path is getting more and more dangerous.

Much like my reaction to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I was blown away by the enhancement to storytelling that this sequel brought to the trilogy of films. While I both enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring and (more after a second viewing) An Unexpected Journey, as first installments, they ended in a way that didn’t really make me scream for more. Not the same here. As devices, both films were burdened with the need to set up all angles, motivations and characters – however here, everything is ready, set, go and much like Two Towers, Jackson brings a higher degree of action (not to mention creepiness with what’s crawling through the Murkwood) to the story.

With all of the cast set in place, it’s clear that everyone is comfortable as their characters. Most of all Ian McKellan as Gandalf the Grey. Once again, his presence is outstanding and while the audience may know what’s as stake, his discovery and investigation into the lurking evil is extremely interesting and fun to watch. At the same time, Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is fantastic and his ability to show a variety of emotions in one scene is both heart-breaking and amazing. Freeman clearly commands the screen every time he is featured and his wonderment at his new experiences and curiosity become your own as an audience member. Along with that, Richard Armitage at Thorin once again brings a different air of royalty and honor mixed his blind devotion that make you both root for him to succeed and hate him for his narrow-minded focus.

One of the biggest surprises, for me, was how much the presence of Orlando Bloom (returning as Legolas) and new character Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, would blow me away. Hardcore fans of the novels will find their inclusion offensive and find endless ways to complain, however, watching them go all Elvish on a pack of orcs was pure eye candy and, in opinion, they add a nice new level of tension to the overall tale that connects the larger implications of the Dwarfs and their quest to Middle-Earth.

However, most of all, Lee Pace. As King Thranduil, Pace brings a fear and sadness that is never really shown from that type of character. Working so hard to not show his fear of what is quickly devouring his land, Pace walks that fine line between confidence and crazy.

Sadly though, most of the Dwarfs still go unnoticed. Save for Ken Scott (Balin – Thorin’s advisor), Graham McTavish (Dwalin – the tallest and badassiest looking member of the group), James Nesbott (Bofur – the one that looks like the guy who played Jekyll – hint, he did play Jekyll) and Aldin Turner (Kili – the one who has, um … “forest fever”) the rest are still just background noise with Stephen Hunter (Bumbor) only getting the spotlight for site gags or an occasional “barrel roll” – you’ll get that reference when you see it … and you will go see it.

But wait … what about the dragon? What about Smaug? That’s a bit of a spoiler in my opinion and he, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is worth the wait.

Visually speaking, everything about this film is gorgeous. From the larger than life sets, the lush backgrounds of the country and the amazing make-up and visual effects, fans of the series will not be disappointed. However, there are times, because everything is so painstakingly beautiful, that it is hard to track what is going on and moments can get somewhat lost. This may be an issue only with the 3D viewing of the film but I do feel it is important to point out.

Overall as a story, I was greatly annoyed in An Unexpected Journey by the time it took took for all the characters to get moving and only to be met with multiple moments of walking, talking, singing or lamenting. Was it important for the story? Yes. Did it make for compelling viewing? Not at all (for most). However, in Smaug, my reaction is the complete opposite. I appreciate the time that Jackson takes with each portion of this story and building out moments that were glossed over in the book so that they are more integral to the growth of the different characters.

Clearly, I enjoyed this film. Acting, story and visual effects come together so well that you can almost forgive the flatness from the first film. By pushing the characters with more action, higher degrees of danger and a near flawless attention to detail, Jackson and his team have brought a Hobbit film that nearly edges the brilliance of Lord of the Rings. This is a film that I would recommend to anyone and everyone and I am already planning my second viewing. I was very skeptical of how (or why) Jackson would decide to break this one story into three parts, but with the level of anticipation that I was left with when the film ended, I will happily close my mouth and wait for the final installment of this “precious” film franchise.

5 our of 5 Black Dragon Spears

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Philomena opens November 27

Philomena

Reviewed by Heidi Nast

Phil posterPhilomena is a heart-wrenching 2009 investigative book transformed into a movie based from the writings of BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith staring Steve Coogan about his journey with Philomena Lee. Starring Dame Judi Dench as Philomena, the title character sets out to find her son Anthony who was sold away from her to America at the Roscrea Abbey in Ireland when she was a child herself.  This film was directed by the incomparable Stephen Frears whose credits include The Queen.

It would be unfair to give any part of this film’s story away in this review, you must experience it yourself.  Philomena is beautiful to watch, highly stylized, and touches one on a much deeper level whilst brilliantly portrayed by top-notch actors.

What I will focus on is the basic Catholic tenet of penitence, and what Philomena is all about.

Cited in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary penitence is defined as: a feeling of deep sadness because you have done something wrong.  Penitence surfaced in the 13th Century rooted and expressed as Anglo-French penitance, from Medieval Latin poenitentia, alteration of Latin paenitentia, regret, from paenitent-, paenitens, to present participle. 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation focuses on healing, forgiveness and peace. And yet in order for this sacrament to be valid, the sinner must do more than just confess sin to the priest. They must be truly sorry, have a firm commitment to never commit sin and perform the penitence imposed by the priest.  Penitence originally was a process for the sinner to appear before the bishop in a public ceremony, they admitted what they did and expressed how sorry they were for their wrong doings.  A penance was then mandated, and during one’s penance, the sinner could not enter the church until the church welcomed them back. Confession plays a key component and the repetition of prayers, thus the words of Absolution releases the sinner from their transgressions. 

Fifty years hence, hasn’t Philomena suffered long enough with the search for her son? Consider if Philomena Lee forgives Sister Hildegard who will never understand the loss of a child. Philomena releases her anger by admitting that is just too exhausting to hold onto any longer.  Philomena never regrets her relationship and what comes from that chance moment in time. Whose transgressions does one live by with the Catholic doctrine? And I ask, how long does one have to suffer loss and at what cost?  Where is the Sacrament of Reconciliation that focuses on forgiveness, peace and the Joy of Healing? Isn’t that what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about?  Philomena has embraced that sacrament and has excused herself from her sins and past transgressions. She finds her closure, she finds her peace, and she grasps her own healing process and inner forgiveness with incredible understanding against the adversity of great pain and very final realizations. 

Phil and martinPhilomena is a must see film. Sit back, breath in her discoveries and the grace in which she handles truth in life. It is a testament of how each of us must seek forgiveness in this lifetime to find peace and tap into one’s higher self. This is a journey each of us walks everyday and I promise Philomena will give you hope that life is truly wonderful and worth living, even under great duress.     

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Behind the Scenes

KCS-Cinematic-NovDec13The state of filmmaking and watching is an ever-moving target. There are the concerns about filmmakers, even those with heavy-hitting last names like Spielberg and Lucas, struggling to get Hollywood to back their projects. Then there are concerns that the studios are pricing themselves out of the market because they expect all cinema houses to have digital projectors. That in turn forces the theaters to charge $16 for a popcorn and soda combo. And if you want to catch a new release in the theater, do so on the first week because if the box office returns aren’t high enough, the film will have a short theater life and the hope is to capture those dollars in rentals, movie purchases and overseas distributors.

Filmmaker and film professor Mitch Brian agrees the problems start at the top, “The studios are well-financed arms of massive corporations so by demanding theaters to go digital they know they are pricing many small theaters out of the business. They want to control all aspects of the industry and are in a business model that demands their movies make hundreds of millions of dollars just to break even. They spend because they can. It is one of the few things Hollywood can still do better than anybody else.” Brian is joined by fellow film professors Lyn Eliot and Kevin Willmott in teaching film studies and continuing their film art form in the metropolitan area.

Film critic and aficionado Bob Butler says the other significant plus and minus, in the big picture, is the international market. “Those films that fail in America often make it internationally. They are the films with sex, violence and action. The downside is that while these films transcend cultures, we start seeing more films crafted in big, predictable patterns which doesn’t allow for much room for the independent filmmaker and his voice. The upside is that the bigger films keep Hollywood going and that allows the decision-makers to give us a movie out of the usual patterns from time
to time.”

KANSAS CITY IN THE LIMELIGHT
For Kansas City audiences and filmmakers, being in the Heartland has a few benefits. Within the metropolitan community, several film organizations support and nurture directors, screenwriters, actors and production crew. Some of the groups include the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, Film Society of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City Women in Film and Television, CinemaKC and Films For Action KC.

With the Film Commission of Kansas City, Board Chairwoman Heather Laird, who leads her own casting company and directs, has been serving as the de facto film commission. “We have not had a film commission supported by the city in about 10 years,” she says. “With no film commission, someone needs to answer questions. As chair, I am the one who gets the phone calls and the e-mails. We run the gamut of experience on our volunteer board so I draw on them to help with the questions I get. Often television and commercial production are the areas of interest.”

Several times a week, they are fielding questions from shows like America’s Got Talent. “None of us is qualified to sell Kansas City. If an America’s Got Talent came to Kansas City, think about what they would spend in the city and what the free advertising would
look like.” The organization has done some preliminary research that has shown the companies in town were impacted by more than $100 million in 2012 because of commercial and television productions.

“We aren’t a qualified research team, but the billings from our local companies look good. We do the math and extrapolating the results, we are going to take these numbers to the mayor and the city council,” she says. The organization wants to be an active part of the Mayor’s Task Force for the Arts. “I came back 21 years ago from Los Angeles and my records from production over the last 20 years show we have averaged three movies a year around the Midwest.”

Michelle Davidson Bratcher helps Laird as a member of the commission. She is also the past president of the KCWIFT. She’s also an actress, producer, morning talk show host and film writing partner with local filmmaker Patrick Rea. She sees the excitement not only in the independent short films she writes and produces, but also in the television, web series and regional commercials. “I agree that a city staff person who could sell the city would be best. Think about all the visually appealing area. There’s the Plaza, the Crossroads, and more. If we are going to stand on the idea that we are the Creative Crossroads, we need to stand up and show off our potential.”

WHAT LOCAL DIRECTORS SAY
Two local directors concur that today’s access to film equipment is good and bad. “Cameras and editing equipment is so accessible to so many people. Canon and Nikon are making cameras affordable and that puts filmmaking in many people’s hands,” says actor and director Damon Lee Patterson whose film, Art Saved My Life, has been getting great buzz around the city and film festivals.

Writer and Director Patrick Rea, whose film Nailbiter has taken many awards and found a circuit at horror film festivals, says the increase in availability of cameras saturates the market, especially in horror films. “People can make them cheaper, but that is the disconnect. It’s all about story and acting, the right lighting … I honestly think it harder than film with the digital cameras. Film is forgiving, but digital can be video-like and cheap. Directors have to work extra hard to make it look good.”

Patterson says the inundated technology also extends to how film is shown. “There are outlets like YouTube, Vimeo and the film festival market. Film can be in accessible, but at the same time, multimillion dollar studios can’t seem to take too many risks.” He thinks the playing field may even out if independent filmmakers catch up with independent music makers. “They have the grassroots marketing down. They put together sales out of their trunk and use social media in huge ways. When independent filmmakers adapt, it will open up more. There are so many more venues for musicians and fewer for movies. What makes a film venue – it’s a projector screen, a projector and a sound system. In terms of presentation, you need some chairs and perhaps a concession area.”

Rea says horror films have been some of the most successful with lower budgets and higher box office returns. “We don’t have to recoup millions. If a film builds the buzz, then it takes off. “We still root for the surprise hits like District 9. Sure people are more judicious about spending their money to go to the theater, but there will always be movies people want to see on the big screen.”

KANSAS CITY’S FILM FUTURE
Laird says, “We will always be a film city. We have a strong production company and we have a big advertising community. Those two combined help the area. There are jobs for crews and for actors. Young and independent filmmakers are the energy that drives a really exciting filmmaking community here in Kansas City.” For bigger budget films to return, the state must reinstate tax credits. “It’s strictly economics. These filmmakers need to get the biggest bang for their buck. However, there is the television component. Sure 10 years ago, television shows didn’t go outside of L.A., but reality television has changed that. While they bring in a lot of their own crew, there is still an economic impact as they eat in our restaurants, stay in hotels and put our city on the air.”

Even through the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, requests come in for inquiries for B roll. “They want to know what signposts, locations and such are iconic. They want to put our city on national television. Kansas City is film friendly and ripe for the economic impact. We need someone in City Hall with the materials to convince a group to come here. That is the piece of the puzzle that is missing.”

Bratcher believes the future of film is something that many are trying to figure out. The growing film festivals are important, she says. “We need more people to continue supporting film and that audience needs to grow. It needs to be seen as another art form. People are still going to the movies to experience the collective laugh, scream or cry.”

Butler figures people will continue visiting movie theaters as the human experience from centuries past dictates that people enjoy sharing. “The history proves back to when the Greeks saw theater as a sort of religious celebration. While film is not this, there is still that group experience where a collective gasp or laugh is so much better than alone.” He believes non-mainstream movies will continue as long as an audience shouts their support and attends the movies. “Ironically theater has returned to the movie houses with Jerry Harrington at the Tivoli bringing in the videotaped plays from groups like the Royal Shakespeare Company.”

Kansas City’s film future could be what Austin, Texas has now. “There’s not an Austin school of filmmaking, but the environment allows for filmmakers to find and refine their cinematic voices.” Butler applauds the filmmakers here too. He likes Rea’s horror films. “It’s just a matter of time before a filmmaker makes his or her mark on Hollywood.”

Meagan Flynn-Mesmer, an actress, producer and director, is also active in KCWIFT. She served as vice president last year. She has taken on overseeing the annual screenplay contest.

She agrees with Butler that Austin may be the right role model for Kansas City. “We also have a terrific arts and philanthropy scene. We have progressive smaller theater such as Fishtank or The Living Room. Film could be the same here. We have filmmakers like Kevin Willmott and Patrick Rea who make sure they are using local talent. The trick is to always have a quality product and that starts with good screenplays. Then we need to keep an active film commission. It’s not necessarily about studio blockbusters, but creating good films.”•

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Filmmakers – Three Local Film Festivals Capture Audiences

Paris Manhattan - The Opening Film at the KIFF 2013Film festivals hold an increasingly important sway to viewers and those who make films. While a theatrical showing may have a financial reward, many times it’s through cable packages and DVD sales that help. Of course, a film festival allows smaller films to find a screen and a market. They may find a niche for the home video market. For others, a film festival allows an audience to seek out films they may not normally pursue in the larger cinema houses made for mainstream cinema.

THE KANSAS CITY JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
From Oct. 12 to Oct. 20, the Kansas City Jewish Film Festival (KCJFF) brings in nine narratives and documentaries that explore and celebrate Jewish culture and film at the Jewish Community Center.

Rabbi Neal Schuster says film festivals, on the most basic level, bring people together. “Many festivals play films that we don’t have access to outside of the context to bring a movie in. There might be a connective element, such as a theme or genre. Many films can stand alone, but string them together, as with the Jewish Film Festival, and there is even more.”

Schuster will facilitate the discussion after the documentary film, Hitler’s Children, Oct. 15. Only two of the nine films directly deal with the Holocaust. Hitler’s Children is the third that leans on the Holocaust, but is very different, Schuster says. The 2012 documentary examines the lives of children and grandchildren of some of Hitler’s top leaders: Himmler, Goering, Hoess, Frank … “With the film, we are trying to understand the post-Holocaust experience. Can children and grandchildren carry the sins of another generation,” he says. Schuster says another aspect is this idea of perpetuating evil. “It is easy to see these men as monsters and we do so, but as appealing as that it, they were ordinary people on so many levels and had ordinary children.”

Schuster is the senior Jewish educator at the University of Kansas Hillel. He teaches on Jewish film and film in general. He looks at values and lessons presented. “The message, the teachable moment, is to look at the lines you don’t cross. I can see the tremendous burden and how difficult it would be to build a life, to create a sense of self when you want to remove yourself from the past. Film gives people a chance to view something powerful and seeing documentaries are something we don’t get often. We can learn about something together with this film festival.”

Associate Professor and Department Chair Tamara L. Falicov from the KU film studies department will also facilitate a discussion. She will lead a panel after the showing of the autobiographical Foreign Letters Oct. 20. In a note from the filmmaker, the film is autobiographical and looks at how critical and difficult it can be to be a teen, let alone being an immigrant teen.

KANSAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The Kansas International Film Festival has hit lucky number 13. From Oct. 4 to Oct. 13, at the Glenwood Arts Theatre, hundreds of enthusiastic film buffs will parade in to catch more than 50 films.

Dr. Dotty Hamilton, vice president of KIFF and in charge of programming, says one of the highlights is the audience awards for both the best documentary and the best narrative feature. There are two jury awards – one for best narrative feature and one for best social justice documentary – chosen prior to the festival, but announced that Sunday morning at the Filmmaker Recognition Brunch.

“All four award winners receive a one week theatrical run at the Fine Arts Theatres,” she says. “It’s a great prize for filmmakers looking for more recognition and exhibition of their films.” The jury award winners are also replayed on the Wednesday and Thursday evening of the festival. “On opening night, we will screen the Manhattan Short Film Festival, which screens around the world that weekend and our audiences get to vote on the winners, which are announced on MSF website.”

Other collaborations include working with the Kansas City Women in Film and TV, who will sponsor female-directed films for closing night, as well as the Independent Filmmakers Coalition, who will have a Wednesday night screening of their members’ films, Hamilton says.

TALLGRASS FILM FESTIVAL
Tallgrass is the most distant of the film festivals in Wichita, but Kansas City filmmakers have been known to enter this film festival. Last year, the 10th annual Tallgrass Film Festival screened nearly 190 films from 30 countries around the world, including two world premieres and 1 U.S. premiere.

Tallgrass flew in 34 visiting filmmakers from all over the country to present their films to Wichita audiences over four days, which also included parties and educational offerings. The 11th Tallgrass Film Festival will be held in and around downtown Wichita, Kan., Oct.16-20.

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Kicking it with Hit Girl and the Gang

2013_kick_ass_2-wideBA Film Review of Kick Ass 2 by Alexander Morales

I am not a fan of the Kick Ass comic books.

There I said it.

Why am I bringing this up? Because in comparison, I really enjoyed the 2010 film version and even with all its ridiculous over-the-top killing, poor language and juvenile humor, I felt that it was light years better than its source material.

Happily, I can say the same thing about Kick Ass 2.

Set after the events of Kick Ass (2010), our heroes find themselves searching for normality. High school, hormones and hoochies everywhere find both Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) struggling to be regular teenagers. With new heroes popping up on the streets everyday, both are reminded of the lives they once lived and the thrills of being heroic. At the same time, yearning for revenge over the death of his mafia father by Kick Ass, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz Plasse), haphazardly creates a plot to become the world’s first real super villain and begins forming an evil army against his unsuspecting rival.

Let the mad carnage begin.

Without having to be weighed down with an origin portion of the story, I found Kick Ass 2 to be a good companion to the first. Where most sequels fall far short, I felt this film expanded upon a few of the characters well and was a good extension of the Kick Ass story with some pretty good humor and fun, ironic approach to the super hero stories we have been bombarded with over the last several years. However, while I was entertained, it’s not till the end that I realized that this film, while fun, was not as sharp as the first installment.

When the first film was released, the bloody death scenes and the “what did she just say?” shock of having a little girl spew amazing curse words and mutilate adults worked in its favor. While in no way a small film, the bite of its approach helped deepen its effect on pop culture at the time and allowed three young actors to blossom in unique roles. However, this film seems way more watered down in comparison. Yes, there is some shocking fight scenes and of course the main villain is called the M#therF&cker, yet, in this film, I felt as if the shock value was more of an afterthought versus being central to the story’s core. As if the names of the villains and possibly a hero named Night Bitch were enough to win the fans over. In many ways, humor is used to disguise the horrible things that are happening and for some audience members, I think that will work perfectly … but for me, it just started to effect the film and it skewed my overall enjoyment.

By far the stand-out for this film is, once again, Moretz. Just like in the first film, Hit Girl is the shining star and by far a more interesting character then Kick Ass himself. In this film, I appreciated the attempt to better round out her character and make her more than just a foul-mouthed, mini-ninja as she was in the first one. I dislike teen angst story lines with a passion – one of the many reasons why I can’t finish a Twilight novel and why Harry Potter fizzled for me in the late books; however, the approach the filmmakers take on Hit Girls attempts at being a “normal” freshman in high school are both hilarious, thoughtful and, for me, very refreshing.

In comparison, while Johnson’s Kick Ass is still extremely likeable and his insecurities the core of what the film is based around, he’s just not as interesting as Hit Girl. In the middle the film I found myself not really caring as much about his story arc and wanting more from her. The same can also be said for Plasse’s villain character. More of a bumbling idiot trying to be bad, he never really takes that step into evil. Yes, he does bad things, but in the end, he always orders other people that are worse than him to his bidding and thus can never be taken seriously as a bad person. Even when the story arcs to bring the two against each other, the tension is built on other people doing bad things or, in one character’s case, a complete lack of intelligence. Kind of lame.

Rounding out the cast is palette splatter of costumes with Jim Carrey, Donald Faison, Clark Duke, Stephen Mackintosh and Lindy Booth all jumping into a life of crime fighting.

In terms of the story, I felt everything felt a little rushed – especially, for me, the portion that focused on Kick Ass and Hit Girl’s relationship. There is some gold in their training moments and quickly, their partnership moves on to the stranger hero types that begin popping up throughout the city. Of course the story is based on the idea of a “super hero team” and these other characters are integral, but I wish a little more time was given to them together in the middle of the film versus just book-ending the events in the middle.

At the same time, I think the same can be said for the special effects. In several scenes, the special effects are very poor quality and nowhere near the level of quality audiences are coming to expect. There is one scene in particular where a few bullies get their due and what is a hilarious and moth-dropping sequence quickly looses its value because the effects look so poor.

Overall, I did enjoy the film. Hit Girl is and will always be one of my favorite new hero characters. Part Wolverine, all badass, she really ends up carrying this film and while not nearly enough to make it great, she still keeps it from falling apart. Less shocking than its predecessor, I still found the film extremely funny, entertaining and enjoyable. Anchored at the end of the summer movie season may end up burying this film from getting huge audiences, but niche fans will find it and fall back in love with the little purple ninja, while hardcore source material nerds will hate on it because … well … that’s what they do. I should know. I’m usually one of them.

3 out 5 sick sticks

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