Mini Review: Carrie (2013)
by Steve Habrat
Each year, it seems that Hollywood continues down the long list of classic horror movies and picks another one or two that they believe are in desperate need of an update. This year, we’ve seen spiffy remakes of The Evil Dead and the lesser-known Maniac, but it seems that Hollywood wasn’t eager to stop with those two. Rounding out the horror remakes for the year is director Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie, a teen-scream thriller revamped for a generation raised on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Now, don’t get me wrong, Peirce’s Carrie isn’t a bad film. It’s got quite a bit in the way of suspense and it’s slickly made with pretty faces, expensive special effects, and big names that look good on a poster. However, like a good majority of horror remakes out there, Peirce and her screenwriter, Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, do absolutely nothing new with Stephen King’s breakout material. It’s exactly what we saw in Brian De Palma’s 1976 Sissy Spacek version, just with minor scene and plot tweaks to give the illusion that the filmmakers aren’t being a tiny bit lazy. This remake falls in with the bunch that are almost shot-for-shot reconstructions of other, better movies. (Tsk tsk)
Carrie introduces us to Carrie White (played by Chole Grace Moretz), an introverted high school senior who is consistently targeted by her bullying classmates. One day, while showering after gym class, Carrie experiences her first period. Horrified and confused due to her deeply religious upbringing by her mother, Margaret White (played by Julianne Moore), she screams for help from her peers. Naturally, the girls see a prime moment to tease the poor girl and one of Carrie’s main tormentors, Chris (played by Portia Doubleday), even decides to film the girl’s anguish on her smartphone so that she can later post it on YouTube. The viscous teasing is finally stopped by Miss Desjardin (played by Judy Greer), the no-nonsense gym teacher who sticks up for Carrie. Miss Desjardin takes Carrie to the principal’s office where Carrie is told that the school will have to notify her mother of the incident. Terrified over her mother learning of the incident, Carrie uses telekinesis to blow up a water cooler. Confused by this emerging talent, Carrie begins researching telekinesis and teaching herself how to control it. Meanwhile, Sue (played by Gabriella Wilde), one of the girls that were present during the locker room incident, begins feeling bad about the way she treated Carrie. Sue asks her boyfriend, Tommy (played by Ansel Elgort), a popular jock that all the girls swoon over, to take Carrie to prom and show her a good time. After multiple attempts to ask her, Tommy finally gets Carrie to say yes, but her mother forbids to her to go, fearing that something awful will happen. Carrie defies her mother’s wishes, but as it turns out, Chris has something in store for Carrie that will push the tortured soul over the edge.
While it’s never quite as creepy as the 1976 original, Carrie 2013 does pack plenty of suspense, especially in its second half. The minutes leading up to that bucket of blood being dumped on the poor girl’s head are sickening, mostly because we hate to see Carrie’s high come crashing down. There is also plenty of unease coming from her crackpot mother, Margaret, a fanatical Christian who self mutilates and is convinced that Carrie’s telekinesis is the work of the devil. The suspense crafted by Peirce is all well and good, but it should never be confused with legitimate scares. Nothing you see here will keep you from a good night’s sleep. However, the fact that it is able to generate any form of suspense is miraculous because the filmmaker’s take very few risks with a story almost everyone is familiar with. The early scenes are loaded with smartphones, social media harassment, teenage slang, and current radio hits by of-the-moment bands, all things that you expect from a remake looking for approval from the teen crowd that snuck into it. Sadly, it becomes increasingly clear that the filmmakers had nothing new to bring to the story—it’s just brought up to modern times for modern audiences, which makes some Carrie 2013 a bit of a bore. Even worse, it leaves you questioning the point of remaking the film in the first place.
Complimenting Peirce’s suspense are the performances from Moretz, Moore, and Greer, all of which are at the top of their game. Moretz is the very definition of pitiful as Carrie, a tragic girl with barely a friend in the world. She clutches her books tightly to her chest as she hurries through the halls, making sure she doesn’t glance over at the hurtful graffiti painted on the wall about her. Moore is a spitfire as the insanely religious Margaret, a scowling Bible thumper who locks poor Carrie in a closet and forces her to pray for hours on end. Greer earns your respect as the fuming gym teacher Miss Desjardin, a flurry of discipline who sticks up for the timid girl who is always hiding at the back of the class. Portia Doubleday is also memorable as the seething Chris, the vile and arrogant popular girl who hatches the plot to dump the pig’s blood on Carrie’s head. Overall, while there are several moments of Carrie 2013 that make you sit up and take notice, Peirce’s remake seems to exist solely for teenagers who don’t want to be bothered with De Palma’s original because it’s too dated for their tastes. This could have been a vehicle to explore bullying in the social media age, but instead it just looks the other way and refuses to spark an intelligent discussion on the topic. Oh well, at least it looks hip sitting on the sidelines.
Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
by Steve Habrat
Anytime someone asks me to list off a few of my favorite superhero movies, I always make sure to include director Matthew Vaughn’s full-throttle 2010 offering Kick-Ass among my top picks. I am a huge fan of the controversial original, loving it so much that I even included it in my top ten films of 2010 list. I found the film to be a hugely entertaining sugarcoated parody of the superhero genre and a work that had its fingers firmly on the pulse of the new teen generation. Plus, it features two must-see performances from Nicholas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz. It should come as no surprise that news of a Kick-Ass sequel grabbed my attention and had me very excited. After a little over three years, Kick Ass and his merry band of misfit teen superheroes and super villains return in Kick-Ass 2, a surprisingly rushed and flawed follow-up to the anarchic original. There’s no denying that Kick-Ass 2 is plagued by flat filmmaking, sloppy scenes, one very shaky performance, and way too many characters to flesh out, but the film still manages to be a madcap rush, all while smartly lampooning a generation brought up on the glow of an iPhone screen, social media, One Direction, and bath salts.
Picking up a few years after the events of the first film, comic book fanatic Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Taylor Johnson) has decided to retire his Kick Ass persona. He shuffles through school in a daze thinking back on his run as a high-profile superhero and considers hopping back in the saddle. After some contemplation, he decides to reconnect with former ally Mindy Macready AKA Hit-Girl (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), who is now in the care of her deceased father’s closest friend, Sergeant Marcus Williams (played by Morris Chestnut). Mindy agrees to help get Dave back on his feet but she is quickly forced to hang up her cape after Marcus discovers that she is still taking to the streets as the ferocious Hit-Girl. It doesn’t take Dave long to discover that his Kick-Ass persona has inspired a slew of costumed vigilantes that are eager to pick up where he left off. Fellow masked vigilante Dr. Gravity (played by Donald Faison) soon recruits Dave to join the vigilante group “Justice Forever,” an organization run by the mysterious Colonel Stars and Stripes (played by Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Dave’s former superhero partner Chris D’Amico AKA Red Mist (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is busy plotting his revenge against Kick-Ass. Redubbing himself The Motherfucker, Chris begins recruiting a gang of psychopaths that will aid him on his quest of tracking down Kick-Ass and destroying New York City.
With Vaughn out of the director’s chair and serving only as producer, the Kick-Ass franchise has been handed over to Jeff Wadlow, the man responsible for such films as Cry Wolf and Never Back Down. Wadlow quickly proves that he has a handle on action-oriented sequences of Kick-Ass 2, as the same blood-drenched carnage that cut through the original film quickly comes roaring back with a vengeance. There are a number of stand out scenes including a back alley brawl that manages to capture some of the giddy shock that pulsed through our first encounter with Hit-Girl, back when she hacked through a living room of thugs as the inexperienced Kick-Ass looked on in absolute disbelief and horror. There is also a claustrophobic fistfight between “Justice Forever” and a room of seedy gangsters (capped off with a dog chewing off a gangsters unmentionables), a fiery suburban battle between the hulking Mother Russia (played with gusto by Olga Kurkulina) and a slew of cops (wait for a visual gag including a lawn mower), and a massive final showdown that looks like Wadlow took a bunch of neighborhood kids to see the climax of The Dark Knight Rises, told them to go home and make their own superhero or supervillian costumes, and then take to the streets to duke it out. It’s all very entertaining and guaranteed to put a smile on your face, that is, if you can stomach blood, spit, and chunks of flesh flying across the screen.
While the action is good and gory, Kick-Ass 2 really begins to clutter itself with numerous characters that all seem undercooked. The first time around, Aaron Taylor Johnson was the star of the show and everyone else was just a colorful supporting player, but with this film, he has to share the limelight with Chloe Grace Moretz’s Hit-Girl. Johnson is still bursting with lovable geeky charm and its fun to see him with sharper fighting skills when he throws the green wet suit on, but when Chris D’Amico begins targeting his personal life, his character’s inner struggle with throwing on the mask seems snubbed. Meanwhile, the heavy focus on the fan favorite Mindy/Hit-Girl is certainly welcome, but it seems like it is treading on the toes of Dave’s story. Mind you, Mindy’s plotline is still clever, one that reflects upon her pursuit of a normal life and trying to fit in with the popular girls at school. Moretz is such a talented young actress and she brings real bite when she is forced to turn the tables on the cheerleading clique that dares wrong her. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Jim Carrey as the scene-stealer Colonel Stars and Stripes, a born again ex-mob enforcer with some foul chompers and a habit of taking a baseball bat to the REALLY bad guys. Carrey is really only in the film for about twenty minutes, which is a shame because you want to know more about him. Instead, his backstory is relegated to a handful of exchanges between other “Justice Forever” members that he has taken the time to mentor.
Perhaps the weakest player in the cast is Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris/The Motherfucker. There is no doubt in my mind that Plasse absolutely loves this role, but his over-the-top approach to the character begins to feel cheap after a while. His character is built simply to shock at every turn, making you long for something to really drive his evil scheme. It doesn’t help that his comedic timing seems to be on the fritz. As far as the supporting players go, Faison is on point but underused as the smiley Dr. Gravity, returning cast member Clark Duke has softened as Dave’s best buddy Marty/Battle Guy, Robert Emms is fidgety as the homosexual do-gooder Insect Man, and Lindy Booth is bubbly and sexy as the femme fatale Night-Bitch. Booth’s Night Bitch is established as a love interest for Kick-Ass, but by the end, its gone without a trace. As far as the bad guys go, Kurkulina is pure roid rage as the one-woman-army Mother Russia, Andy Nyman is pure sleaze as The Tumor, Daniel Kaluuya is wasted menace as Black Death, and Tom Wu is filler as Genghis Carnage. Basically, all most of them are asked to do is march behind Plasse and scowl into the camera, although there is a bad ass battle between pint sized Hit Girl and stone cold Mother Russia. The most cringe-worthy character of all is probably Augustus Prew’s Todd, Dave’s dim former buddy who joins sides with The Motherfucker and then acts surprised that he did. It’s about as underwritten as characters get, especially ones that double-cross their buddies.
While some botched supporting characters and graphic violence play tug of war, the intimate moments are the ones that really could have used more attention from the filmmakers. There are times when heartfelt exchanges feel like they were written with graphic novel dialogue and it doesn’t help that some of these scenes feel like Wadlow simply aimed his camera at one of the Kick-Ass graphic novels and hit record. The best of the serious-minded moments comes when the “Justice Forever” team takes turns explaining why they decided to put on masks and fight crime. It may be a slightly lazy double for brief character development, but a few of the stories do strike a chord and have an eerie sense of realism about them. The saving grace to the bland presentation and stiff dialogue is the fact that, once again, the project dares to prod teen culture of today. Overall, amidst the numerous problems that plague Kick-Ass 2, there is still some enjoyment to be found. Carrey hits the crazy button with an oversized Acme hammer and then whispers warm advice that cuts right to the heart of our young heroes, the action is just as crazy/disturbing/cool as it was the first time around, and you just gotta love that Hit-Girl. If you’re in the target audience or willing to keep an open mind, Kick-Ass 2 will make for a passable night at the movies.