March 2010

It’s been a few hours since Kick-Ass finished and I’ve had a tough old time trying to organise my thinking on the matter. There have been two main trains of thought battling away in my head.

I’ve been looking forward to this film for so long that there was a very real danger it was on a hiding to nothing; that there would be no way it could live up to my expectations and I guess the bottom line is that while I laughed a lot and loved the set-piece action sequences, it really didn’t. I expected more and I expected better. There. I’ve said it. That’s the first train of thought.

The second train of thought is I probably will go back to see it again fairly soon. Maybe tonight.

If that sounds contradictory, it probably is, but contradiction is a description that fits Kick-Ass fairly well.

The story is centred around young Dave Lizewski, played with intentional awkwardness by Aaron Johnson who, amongst other things, cut his teeth on The Bill and Casualty. Dave is one of the many anonymous souls who wander the school halls, or so movies would have us believe. Neither a jock, nor a comedian, nor a true nerd, he just exists, mostly ignored, dreaming of getting the girl and following in the footsteps of his comic book heroes by fighting crime. A series of muggings and violence in his neighbourhood are his genesis in an overlong opening, and in response he dons a green tracksuit and mask and discovers his alter-ego, Kick-Ass.

Therein lies the first contradiction. Kick-Ass isn’t very kick-ass. A graphic knifing, beating and hit-and-run on his first outing results in lots of steel plates and severed nerve endings, meaning he’s largely impervious to pain, but his subsequent approach to crime-fighting is very much luck and determination over good-judgement and skill. His attention span and dedication to the whole enterprise is also rather limited, drifting into downright apathy, which kinda makes this something of a super anti-hero movie. I get it. I get the irony of that. It’s a neat device and it is funny. It’s just a little … mneh.

A couple of paragraphs ago I said the story centred around Dave and his Kick-Ass alter ego. Well, that’s not entirely true. Certainly, he’s the main character but the actual story is happening separately with other people, other villains, other super-heroes. It’s like, imagine Rambo 2 told from the point of view of the guy he ends up rescuing from the POW camp or Jaws told from the point of view of the mayor. And for me, that’s a bit of a problem because this other, main storyline is far more interesting. There are two reasons why it’s far more interesting: Nicholas Cage and ChloĆ« Moretz.

Simply put, they’re better characters and they steal the show. Cage gets a lot of stick, deservedly so, for his lack of range and big ole chin but here he does a wonderful pastiche of Batman and other stock super-heroes to the point where he’s talking in “character”, he does. So. In a very. Staccato type. Way. He plays Big Daddy and in any other superhero film, he’d probably be the main character. He has a dead wife to avenge, he’s been wronged, served time for a crime he didn’t blah blah blah you get the idea.

The sting in the tail is the fact that his Boy Wonder side-kick is his eleven-year-old daughter, Hit-Girl, played by Moretz, who you may have seen in (500) Days of Summer. Moretz is just wonderful — absolutely wonderful — and it’s in her scenes where director Matthew Vaughn clearly starts to have some fun and you can actually feel the mood of the entire film lift.

There’s been a bit of fuss about the filth coming out of Hit-Girl’s mouth and I dare say there will be more to come now that the movie is on general release, but it’s not overplayed or gratuitous. In fact, if you’ve seen the red banner trailer, you’ll have heard the worst of it. In any event, all of that is secondary to the marvellous turn she puts in. She does funny, warm, fragile all very well and believably.

As a side note, the violence isn’t even that gratuitous either. It’s stylised, yes, and comic book and in places it’s over the top, but thanks to quick cutaways and edits, more often than not I was left feeling I’d seen more than I actually had.

On their own, the individual scenes of the movie are funny when they need to be, tense and action-packed when they need to be, violent when they need to be and moving when they need to be. I’m sure I laughed and gasped in all the right places. The look and feel of the movie is spot-on, too and there’s a micro/macro deal with the almost smalltown settings of Kick-Ass’s home and hanuts coupled with the majesty of NYC and both are dressed to the nines on the big screen. Added to that are some genius choices of soundtrack that make funny scenes funnier and made me sit up in my seat. And when Kick-Ass finally manages to live up to his name in the movie’s denouement, it is a genuinely breath-taking moment. Jonathan Ross’s missus, Jane Goldman, co-wrote the screenplay with Vaughn and while there are no real surprises, the dialogue is as sparkling as it is profane and it aims for, and pretty much reaches, Superbad territory.

Put together, though, and it’s a very jerky experience, lacking in cohesion and flow and left feeling way, way, way longer than it’s two hour running time. If you walk into the film expecting there to be some sub-plot and theme around “being yourself” and “it’s what’s inside that counts”, you won’t be disappointed but it’s this bit that just gets in the way. Pretty as she is, Lyndsy Fonseca’s portrayal of Kick-Ass’s love interest is largely irrelevant other than to be an attractive mannequin for aforementioned sub-plot and theme to be pinned to.

As a whole, it’s good enough fun, I did enjoy it and as Train of Thought #2 insists, I will go see it again if for no other reason than to see Cage and Moretz working their magic. And despite myself, I’ll end up with equally high expectations for the sequel.

2010 has been fairly quiet as far as any publication success is concerned. Quiet, that is, if you choose to ignore the screaming from the batch of rejections I’ve been collecting. I choose to do so.

The good people at Lesser Flamingo have decided to break the rejection chain and have accepted my poem — Anonymous Stars — and it will feature in their May edition. I’m always chuffed when a piece finds a home, but I’m particularly chuffed here because it’s a very, very, very long poem and I had suspicions that its 300 lines or so might seem a little excessive or indulgent. David Whitehouse, editor of Lesser Flamingo, was nice enough to not call it those things and instead said it was ambitious.

You can see exactly how ambitious yourselves in May. Don’t worry. I’ll remind you.

Part of Alloa Writers’ calendar is a twice-yearly open mike night we call Hear, Here. I may have the order of the hears the wrong way round.

The latest such performance night was tonight and it’s now, in the middle of this sentence, that I realise I should’ve done a better job advertising it. Anyway, tonight was a bit different from others because we had a guest poet visit us.

Billy Letford doesn’t have a website. He doesn’t have any collections available to buy. I’m not even sure if he has any of his poems written down. He is, however, utterly amazing. I’ve never been so moved or entertained by poetry as I was by Billy’s work. That’s not to say I’ve never been moved or entertained and we had some great poets perform tonight, but Billy held the audience’s heart in the palm of his hand and he did whatever he pleased with it. Amazing talent. And talking to him after the show, he’s a lovely guy to boot.

Anyway, I’ve come across a video of his more comedic performance at DiScOmBoBUlate 08. It’s not the best recording but if you can make out his words — and I urge you to do your best to do so — hopefully you’ll get the idea.

I’m not a handy person. Come the armageddon, I’ll be next to useless in whatever society crawls from the wreckage. Plumbing? Nope. Carpentry? Forget it. Mechanics? That’s what oily men are for. I can, however, build you a kick ass spreadsheet and I can even get it to talk nicely to a database backend. Come the armageddon, I don’t expect to be called into action immediately.

But, every dog has its day. When we got a cat, nearly seven years ago now, I successfully cut a hole into our kitchen door and filled that hole with a catflap. Not just any old catflap, you understand, but a magnetic catflap. For those not familiar with such things, this is a catflap that remains locked until a magnet comes into close proximity and then it unlocks. Affix magnet to cat’s collar and you’d think it would be plain sailing after that.

Not for our cat. She wasn’t used to having to press her head against a plastic flap to come and go. She much preferred to walk in and out of an open kitchen door and that’s what we humans were for. I tried to introduce her gently to the idea, then I tried a more direct approach. She protested vocally and violently. I eventually let her be and she wandered over to her food bowls to have a snack and forget about the whole nasty business. The food bowls were metal. She had a magnet round her neck. Once she was within six inches of her dinner, the bowl lept from the floor, clattered into her chin and sent her scampering for cover with a large metal medallion hanging from her collar. She’s only now getting over the experience. For fear of coming home one day and finding her clamped over a Chinese take away menu on our fridge door, we removed the magnet and “switched off” the catflap to freely allow comings and goings, Magnet Not Required. The cat, eventually, got used to the arrangement, but why the maker’s decided to use a NASA standard magnet in their product is anyone’s guess.

And all was well until recently, a fat moggy moved into the street. Fat moggy has no issue with using our catflap or eating our cat’s food or generally just bullying our cat. She’s a fragile wee thing, our cat, and we love her. So we — me and my missus, not me and the cat — decided to give this secure catflap business another go. Technology in the world of catflaps has come on leaps and bounds in the last seven years and you can now get one that’s driven by an infra-red beam … or frikkin lasers, as I like to think of it.

It’s the same size as the existing flap so I didn’t need to chance my arm with a jigsaw again. A little bead is attached to the cat’s collar to trigger a sensor on the catflap and at no point will this cause her any surprise when she feels peckish and, all going well, it will keep nasty fat moggy out of our house.

But … it’s noisy. When the cat moves within range, there’s a CLUNK! as it unlocks and a CLUNK! when she moves out of range and it locks again. Problem is, when she moves out of range and it CLUNKS!, she must think nasty fat moggy is trying to get in. So she moves back into range and CLUNK! it unlocks again. She has a little sniff around the plastic door and once she’s satisfied there’s no funny business, she wanders away … CLUNK! and like a shot, she’s back within range again to investigate the noise. And when she sits on her mat at the door, as she’s likely to do, it basically CLUNKS! on and off constantly. This carries on long into the night. I’m starting to think the manufacturer’s hate cats and their owners. I suspect the handiwork of one Jerry Mouse.

So far, though, there’s been no sign of fat moggy, but short of giving our cat her own set of keys, I’d be interested to know of any alternate ways to keep local strays out of our house and let our cat come and go as she pleases while keeping our sanity. Answers on a postcard, please.