There is a possibly apocryphal story that at a certain point in his career, Picasso (or maybe it was Dali) grew so cynical about his own fame that he took to selling blank canvasses alongside his paintings. The story resonates, because I remember seeing a Picasso at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Admittedly I was a callow youth and might have missed some brilliant subtlety in that enormous canvas, but what it looked like to me was nothing more nor less than a joke at the expense of whoever would be willing to pay money for such a sloppy monstrosity. It looked to me like Picasso had slapped the canvas with a house-painting brush until it was mostly filled by artless black lines and white spaces.
As I said, it might be that I missed some deeper layer of meaning but I suspect not. I've seen that Picasso damned well could paint when he was of a mind to, and I didn't see any evidence that that painting was one of those times.
That canvas is why I am so ready to believe the story about the blank canvasses. The fine art world is such a confidence racket (see Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word if you haven't noticed it for yourself) why wouldn't a successful and cynical artist test it to see just how gullible it could be?
I've seen a couple of movies recently which brought to mind the above anecdote, as well as the fable of the emperor's new clothes.
One is an art-house film, directed by one of Canada's regulars at Cannes, a director whose movies win prizes but sell few tickets. The other is a crass and violent film that made Roger Ebert "sad" and which has also appalled all sorts of people who haven't seen it.
One film boasts leaden dialogue, the other repartee that, if not quite Shakespearean, still sparkles by comparison; one boasts an utterly forgettable score of saccharine strings that bear no apparent connection to what is occurring on-screen, the other a soundtrack carefully chosen not just to accompany but to augment each scene; one film opens with a narrative voice-over which is almost immediately forgotten, the other begins with the voice-over and — successfully — maintains it.
One is (or pretends to be) a study of sexual obsession and a portrait of a family threatened by the estrangement of man and wife and by a sexually powerful interloper (which also gives the director the chance to get his actresses naked and to make out with each other though — since this is Art — neither of them appears to have any fun doing so.
The other is an unabashed fantasy of violence and vengeance, a portrait of a nerdy teenage boy who dons a costume to fight crime (and who mostly gets brutally beaten for his troubles) and of an 11 year-old girl who lives out her father's fantasies and really does succeed in slicing, stabbing, gutting, shooting and otherwise slaughtering a veritable legion of bad-guys, all while cursing up a blue storm (yes, folks, even the dreaded C-word).
No prizes for guessing which film I think is worth your time.
Warning/Come-on: Swearing and gratuitous nudity.
Hit-Girl kicks ass, Chloe sucks it
As Tom Lehrer so pithily illustrated, smut is in the eye of the beholder; one man's tasteful nude is another's hot naked chick.
A case could be made for describing both movies under consideration here as pornographic, though only one is honest about its intentions.
Kick-Ass is unabashedly devoted to making killing look easy and fun. Really, that's about it. Call it "splatter-porn" and be done with it.
Then there's "art-porn", which is as morally unredeemed and unredeeming as the regular kind, but which, not to put too fine a word on it, is bullshit, in that it uses every trick in the book to convince its viewers they are watching something of Serious Intent and Deep Insight, an heir to Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris, and not to Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction.
Atom Egoyan is no Bernardo Bertolucci and Chloe, with its hackneyed plot, leaden dialogue and joyless sex is a tedious 85 minutes of nothing at all, except maybe a director's desire to pull one over on his audience — and to get his favourite actresses to take off their clothes and make out on-camera. But if your taste in smut runs to soft-core lesbian sex, a minute-and-a-half out of those 85 minutes don't add up to value for your entertainment dollar.
And if you want to tell me I'm missing Egoyan's serious intent, then explain the following to me. Please.
Guest: "So ..."
Catherine [spotting her teen-age son, accompanied by his girlfriend]: "Michael, hey you're dad's gonna be here any minute, come and join us!" [Michael ignores his mother. Catherine returns her attention to the guest.] "Where'd the little boy who used to run to his mommy's arms go?"
Guest: "His girlfriend is probably going down on him right now —
Catherine: "That's a horrible thing to say, to a mother." [strained smiles.]
Guest: "He's doing a lot better." [Note: This seems to indicate Michael is a Troubled Youth, but nothing comes of it.]
Catherine: "Yeah. He is."
Guest: "Trina!" [Waves his girlfriend over, then nearly gropes her possessively as he introduces her.] Trina, this is Catherine. Our hostess, and my office-mate."
Catherine: "Lovely to meet you."
Trina: "What an amazing house you have."
Catherine: "Thank you."
Catherine: "Oh, that's probably him. Quiet everybody!"
Thank god for that phone call.
"His girlfriend is probably going down on him right now"/"That's a terrible thing to say, to a mother," is as close as Chloe comes to wit or humour and none of the cast is able to make anything of the lines they're required to recite.
If, like me, you know Fatal Attraction only by reputation, you still know the basic story here. A family is threatened by an obsessive and sexually powerful outside woman whose desires (or rather, Desire) threatens to bring down the shaky family edifice — and yes, someone's going to pay for that sex with their life.
In Chloe, it is Julianne Moore's Catherine who introduces the dangerous younger women into the familial mix. Suspicious that her husband David (Liam Neeson) is a philanderer, Catherine hires a chance-met prostitute to test her husband. Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) agrees and soon reports back with what has to be the worst aural sex ever inflicted on me.
A brief sample is in order.
"I could feel he was excited through his pants ... And ... he came almost immediately. After he entered me. I ... put my tits in his face."
There's more, but I'll spare you any further insult.
But shurely, you cry, this can't be? Atom Egoyan gets fêted at Cannes! His films open the TIFF!
Shurely I can. Admittedly, I've seen only Chloe and the equally squalid and joyless Exotica, in which a mourning father moons over a stripper who reminds him of his tragically deceased daughter — or something like that — but two of Egoyan's movies are enough to see the pattern.
Chloe is a lot of sound, though not much fury and some bare tits, signifying nothing and without the consolation of being entertaining.
Chloe combines standard film-school craftsmanship, so-called "literary" tropes and a C-movie plot and manages to do them all badly. If it is about anything, Chloe is about the dangers of female sexuality, but it doesn't offer any evidence that female sexuality is animate, let alone a threat to anything or anybody.
On the other hand, we have a movie Roger Ebert called "morally reprehensible" ...
'Okay you cunts; let's see what you can do now'
Kick-Ass doesn't have a pretentious bone in its violent, profane and sometimes very funny body.
Morally reprehensible? Maybe so. God knows, its intention is neither to improve nor to enlighten anybody. Ebert is under the impression it is supposed to be a satire, but I don't think even that justification holds water.
Kick-Ass just is what it is, and what that is is violence for the sake of violence, profanity for the sake of profanity and what can only be called child abuse played for laughs and thrills.
Kick-Ass revels in its violence, its gore and in its sheer mayhem. It may have made Roger Ebert sad, but it made me very happy indeed (if also just a little bit dirty) in a way that reminded me of when I first Raiders of the Lost Ark or the The Empire Strikes Back in a theatre as a teenager.
Jesus. Really? That much?
Let me to explain.
Dave Lizewski (ably portrayed by British actor Aaron Johnson) is a normal, geeky teenager. He loves comic books, pines after the beautiful Katie Deauxma and gets mugged for his lunch-money on a regular basis. Think of a cross between Peter Parker without the radio-active spider and a very young Clark Kent — without the special powers.
He wonders with his friends why no one has actually tried putting on a costume like his favourite comic heroes and talks himself into trying it.
His initial outing doesn't go well. In very short order, Kick-Ass is beaten, knifed in the belly and run down by a car.
At this point it seems we are in for a dark and possibly serious attempt to answer the question, "What would really happen if someone dressed up in a silly costume to fight crime?"
But no. Dave recovers too fast and too easily from injuries which include a broken spine. Shown x-rays revealing that most of his major bones have been reinforced with metal rods, his only response is, "This is awesome! I look like freakin' Wolverine!"
He dons the costume again and, again, gets badly beaten. But this time, he "wins" his fight: three thugs decide the better part of valour is to leave the crazy guy alone. A bystander records the incident on his cellphone and a Youtube phenomenon is born.
Okay, I thought, maybe we are in for some kind of satire.
Or maybe not. Enter Hit-Girl.
We first meet Hit-Girl out-of-costume, a delightful little pig-tailed blonde girl with her father in some isolated urban oasis. And Daddy is seconds away from shooting her in the chest from very close range.
— "Daddy, I'm scared."
— "Come on Mindy, honey, be a big girl now, there's nothing to be afraid of."
— "Is it gonna hurt bad?"
— "Only for a second, sugar. A hand-gun bullet travels at ...?"
— "700 miles an hour" —
— "700 miles an hour! So at close range like this, the force is gonna take you off your feet for sure, but it's really no more painful than a punch in the chest."
— "I hate getting punched in the chest!"
— "You're gonna be fine, baby doll!
When Daddy tells her she needs to be shot a few more times, Mindy insists they go bowling and for ice cream as a reward. And at the restaurant she winds him up, saying she wants a puppy for a her birthday.
Daddy looks heartbroken until Mindy grins. "I'm just fucking with you, Daddy." In fact, she wants weapons, and lots of them!
Meanwhile, Kick-Ass has taken an assignment from Katie, who is being harassed by a drug dealer. He visit the dealer's apartment and warns him to stay away from Katie or "I'll come back here and break your fucking legs!"
The drug deal is huge, vicious and in the company of 7 similar friends. Things look bleak indeed for our hero until the the dealer suddenly notices a spear-head poking from his chest.
And the real movie begins.
That movie is a well-made confection of bloody action punctuated with shallow but affecting characterization and low-key, contextual humour. Nicholas Cage in particular does a wonderful job as the lunatic Big Daddy — Batman with a daughter whom he sees nothing wrong with having turned into a miniature killing machine.
Weirdly loving out-of-costume and channelling Adam West's Batman while masked, Cage plays the character straight and, in that frankly insane seriousness, lies its humour.
It's probably too soon to say whether the young Ms. Moretz is a brilliant young thespian or just a kid with a knack for playing make-believe, but she's got presence here and reminded me of Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon (which I saw sometime in the 1970s on a black-and-white television set, so don't hold me to the comparison). In any case, I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief when she was onscreen and accept that an 11 year-old girl could enter a room and leave it minutes later with only eight corpses to tell the tale of her having been there.
I know, I know. That does all sound "morally reprehensible", doesn't it? And surely there's something wrong with making an 11 year-old pretend that killing is fun and that saying things like, "Okay, you cunts; let's see what you can do now!" or laughing and saying, "I'm just fucking with you, Daddy."
Épater les bourgeois!
If Kick-Ass is "morally reprehensible" then so is every book, film, play or song that doesn't promote a particular "moral" cause.
If it's satire (and maybe, in part, it is), it is satire of super-hero comics in particular and of a sub-set of popular western culture in general — of John Wayne and John Rambo, of Batman and Spiderman, of every fantastic vigilante righteously dealing out death to the deserving.
But no. That's self-justifying bullshit.
Kick-Ass isn't satire, it is the thing itself. It is a celebration of the blood-thirsty choreography cinema permits. It offers the same balletic combination of sight and sound that are on offer in kung-fu movies, or Star Wars-type pro-explosion films, in shoot-'em-up war movies and and probably in horror and torture porn to boot.
It's hard to justify the pleasures Kick-Ass provides, but that they were pleasures is undeniable. Meanwhile, the only pleasure I took from Chloe came when I was able to turn it off.
Kick-Ass has nothing to say about the human condition or the state of Western Civilization; neither does Chloe. Kick-Ass' only purpose is to entertain, by pandering to a viewer's enjoying in kinetic action and bloody fantasies. But neither does Chloe have anything of substance to say about the human condition. And its purpose is no less ignoble, since the only purpose I can see for it is to serve to convince the gullible that Atom Egoyan is a philosopher of sex, not a pornographer.
Due to its shallowness, Chloe fails as Art; due to its pretensions, it fails as Entertainment. Knowing no shame, Kick-Ass succeeds brilliantly as entertainment and — because it is so memorable — will probably even spark a few serious discussions about the human condition, which is far more than Egoyan's forgettable movie is likely to accomplish.
Chloe delivers absolutely nothing it promises, while Vaughn's offensive, funny, thrilling, ridiculous tale delivers everything it promises — in bruised and bloody spades. Even the soundtrack scores.
Art? Maybe not. Fun? Absolutely.
Comment from the original post
Submitted by Von Allan (not verified) on Mon, 2010-05-24 18:05.
I'm not a big Egoyan fan so Chloe wasn't something I was particularly interested in seeing, but you put the nail in it for me and thank you for it! Kick Ass is something I haven't seen yet and I really want to. Your review reinforces that - and makes want to see it in the theatre.