“Kick-Ass” revels in its transgressive, nasty brutishness, and its audience will, too.
Of course, it’s one thing to have a 11-year-old girl in a comic book use very strong language and kill lots of people and it is another thing in a live-action movie, when the character is played by an actual 12-year-old. So let me say up front that I object to the rules allowing a child actor to perform this kind of role. If there are words an adult could be arrested for saying to a child, a child should not be permitted to say them on screen. Director Matthew Vaughn says that it is hypocritical for people to complain about the language used by a young girl, but not the violence. Well, first, I am complaining about the violence; I do not think children should be permitted to film graphic violent scenes whether they are the perpetrator or the victim (this movie has both). And second, the violence is fake but the language is real, so it is fair to take that seriously. So, for the record, to the extent I endorse this film, I want to be clear that I object to the involvement of a then-12-year-old in making it.
The problem is that it is getting harder and harder to find anything that is shocking or disturbing and having a child use bad language — in this case some crude sexual terms that are arguably misogynistic — and shoot bad guys in the face is one of the few remaining ways to provoke that delicious boundary-defying sensation. And — reservations aside — it works. Seeing Hit Girl, well, kick ass to the kicked-up-a-notch cartoon theme from the “Banana Splits” and then to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” is a tonic. And there is something undeniably heady about seeing a vulnerable young girl mow down the bad guys — like “Home Alone” on crack.
“Kick-Ass” is a knowing tweak on the comic book genre. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a comics-loving high school student who dreams of being a superhero, but, as he says, “My only super-power was being invisible to girls.” Undaunted, he orders a diving suit, turns it into a uniform, and re-creates himself as Kick-Ass, defender of justice. And then he gets beat up, stabbed, and sent to the hospital. No radioactive spider-bites or gamma rays, but he does come out of the hospital with two helpful results from his injuries — nerve damage that lessens his ability to feel pain and some metal plates in his bones that make his x-ray look — at least to him — like Wolverine’s.
Meanwhile, a former cop (Nicolas Cage) is raising his young daughter to be a killing machine, a pint-sized Kill Bill he calls Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). His superhero persona is Big Daddy and his uniform is reminiscent of both Batman and Night Hawk. What they don’t have in superpowers they have in training, equipment, very, very heavy artillery, and single-minded focus.
Director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, “Layer Cake”) has a great eye and knows how to stage stylish, striking action scenes. Moretz (500 Days of Summer and Diary of a Wimpy Kid) has a great deadpan delivery and a natural chemistry with Cage, whose witty, skewed take is slyly funny.
The superhero genre has always been about transformation — the mild-mannered loser who contains within him (if only everyone knew!) a secret source of power. Here, the power is not x-ray vision or the ability to fly; just an extra dose of the hallmarks of adolescence: an affect of ennui about everything but smashing through limits and a sense of irony about everything but sex.
Whose life does the title refer to? “To Save a Life” begins with a funeral, a tragic loss of a high school kid who committed suicide because he felt isolated and friendless. Jake (Randy Wayne), a popular senior who thinks he has it all attends the funeral, remembering Roger, who was his closest friend when they were children. Roger once saved Jake’s life when they were on their bicycles, putting himself in the path of an accident that left him with a permanent limp, and Jake wonders how they grew apart and when the last time was that he even said hello to Roger in the school hallway.
Other lives will be at risk, metaphorically and literally, as this story continues, and one of its strengths is its willingness to engage candidly and open-heartedly with the real issues that confront teenagers, giving it some heft and credibility. It also benefits from better production values than most Christian-identified entertainment, with sound, lighting, script, direction and acting that compare with the kinds of content kids are used to on television and in theaters. While some adult audience members looking for family-friendly fare may not be happy about the frank portrayal of some high-risk teen behavior, the target age group will appreciate its honesty about high school life and stress. Even more important is the portrayal of a clergyman who walks the walk, making his leadership about meaning and values and most of all kindness. He does not try to make God the explanation for everything, just the beginning of the answer. And he handles one of teenagers’ most frequent complaints about “churchy” people, that some of them are hypocrites who do not practice what they preach, in a forthright and believable manner that is genuinely disarming.
I have one DVD and one Blu-Ray to give away. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Life DVD” or “Life Blu-Ray” in the subject line and the first to arrive will win. Good luck!
“A Film Unfinished” is a new Holocaust documentary featuring never-before-shown footage from the Warsaw Ghetto. The MPAA has given it an “R” rating for “disturbing images of holocaust atrocities including graphic nudity.” This means that no one under 17 can see the film without a parent or guardian and restricts its availability to educational venues. Oscilloscope, which is distributing the film, has set the appeal with the MPAA for Thursday, August 5th. If you want to comment, get in touch with:
MPAA Ratings Board
15301 Ventura Blvd., Building E
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
(818) 995-6600 (main)
(818) 285-4403 (fax)
The film, which will be released August 18th in New York and August 20th in Los Angeles followed by a national rollout, documents an unfinished Nazi propaganda film shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. (The Warsaw Ghetto, part of the Third Reich’s Final Solution, was the largest and most notorious of the unlivable urban ghettos and a last transit point before deportation to the extermination camps.) Discovered in East German archives after World War II and labeled simply “Ghetto”, the footage quickly became a resource for historians seeking an authentic record of the Warsaw Ghetto. However, the later discovery of long-missing film reel complicated earlier readings of the footage and revealed many of the shots to be staged. A FILM UNFINISHED presents the raw footage in its entirety, carefully noting fictionalized sequences (including a staged dinner party) falsely showing “the good life” enjoyed by Jewish urbanites and probes deep into the making of a now-infamous Nazi propaganda film.
A FILM UNFINISHED had its US Premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where it won the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award, and has gone on to win the top award at Hot Docs Film Festival and the WGA Screenplay Award at AFI’s Silverdocs Film Festival.
Producer (and Beastie Boy) Adam Yauch says, “This is too important of a historical document to ban from classrooms. While there’s no doubt that Holocaust atrocities are displayed, if teachers feel their students are ready to understand what happened, it’s essential that young people are giving the opportunity to see this film. Why deny them the chance to learn about this critical part of our human history? I understand that the MPAA wants to protect children’s eyes from things that are too overwhelming, but they’ve really gone too far this time..”
Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor says, “The further away we get from the years of Holocaust the more necessary it is that our current and future generations understand it. What a shame for today’s teenagers who study world history to be denied viewing A Film Unfinished and seeing first hand the Nazi treatment of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. It’s depiction of the lengths to which the Nazis would go to dehumanize Jews is an important teaching tool, not only for its historic content, but for its relevance to today’s world.”
As we lose those whose first-hand experience has been essential in bringing this story to the world, it is even more important to make use of the few recordings that can document what happened during the Holocaust to rebut the deniers and carry the lessons of history to future generations. It is absurd that the MPAA will allow “comic” and “action” violence in a PG-13 film, but not the sober portrayal of historical events.
Oscilloscope co-founder David Fenkel said, “This clearly needs to be rectified. The rating is inconsistent with cultural norms and the film does not use the footage in any exploitative way. The rating will tragically would hinder the exhibition of the film to those who most need to see the film: namely students.”