Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review roundup: "Kick-Ass" and "La Raza"

Two blogs in one day? Mind. Blown.

Thanks to the generosity of Capone at Ain't It Cool News and Lionsgate films, Last night I saw Kick-Ass. The film is an adaptation of the comic book series by Mark millar and John Romita, Jr. It's set for release on April 16th.

Let's start by saying this: I'm not a HUGE fan of the comic series. I find, generally, with creator-owned comic projects by Mark Millar, it always feels like the comics are there simply to get a movie deal. Worked wonders in this case, as the storyline presented in the film just wrapped up last month with Kick-Ass #8, I think it was. I can say that John Romita Jr's art was worth every penny. Like his father, Romita is a legend in his own time.

But here we have the movie. Long story short, there are parts I like much better than the comic, and parts I liked less. Generally speaking, the film has much more of a sense of humor about itself than the book did, which helps a lot. The performances, with Chloe Moretz and Nick Cage being standouts, are all pretty solid. Cage does this incredibly odd Adam West voice while in costume as Big Daddy, and it's one of those things that reminds you of how wonderful his odd choices could be in the past. Moretz will be a fanboy favorite as Hit Girl, and is the centerpiece of pretty much all the major action sequences. Her physical work alone is as impressive as any adult, and the fact is she brings it emotionally, too. The final scene between Big Daddy and Hit Girl left me more than a little choked up.

(Note here: If you're uncomfortable watching a 10-11 year old girl kill 30-40 people in pretty brutal fashion, Kick-Ass is not the movie for you.)

The film itself centers on Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), and this is where things kinda fall down. The comics presented Dave as a uber-nerdy kid in the "real world" who decides to become a superhero. Being a movie/comic book, this, of course, leads him in to conflict with real-live bad guys far beyond his ability to deal with, as well as Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who are the closest thing to "real" superheros in this story.

The Dave of the comics was a true believer in comic book ethics, he is truly disturbed by Big Daddy and Hit Girl's body count. The film backs off this, and leaves up with Dave wielding the heavy artillery like everyone else. That saddened me. What also saddened me was the resolution of Dave's "love story," which changed from a pretty powerful (and realistic) denouement in the comic, to a extremely formulaic "Hollywood" resolution in the film. If anything the move really upset me, as far as changes, that was it.

Just to note, for the sake of noting it, yes...this movie also features McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as a superhero.

Bottom line, I found the film entertaining. It drags a bit in the middle, but ends with a bang. I give it 3 out of 5 stars, with the caveat that I was no huge fan of the source material.

I also downloaded La Raza, the first album in ten years by Armored Saint.

I became aware of Armored Saint, really, because vocalist John Bush had joined Anthrax in the early 90's. I picked up a copy of Symbol of Salvation, which, in my humble opinion, is not only their best album, but one of the best metal albums, ever.

I am a big John Bush fan. I love the qualities of his delivery and attack when he sings, and the line-up of the whole band backs him with equal skill. Jeff Duncan (guitar), Phil Sandoval (guitar), Joey Vera (bass), and Gonzo (drums) all seem more than happy to be back together and making music.

The album starts strong with "Loose Cannon," but then gets even more solid for the next two tracks, "Head On" and "Left Hook From Right Field." these two tracks represent the high water mark of the record. Powerful numbers with great musicianship and vocals. We slip back a bit on "Get off the Fence," but then "Chilled" slows things down in a nice, moody number. Probably Bush's bet performance on the record.

The title track, "La Raza," is next, and I think it suffers a bit from "Chinese Democracy syndrome," wherein the band seems to try to do everything they can do in one track, instead of pushing through on one cohesive idea. It's good, but a little long and sprawling. "Black Feet" is a rugged little bluesy number, I like it a lot. "Little Monkey" comes off as a bit of a joke, with goofy wordplay and silliness, but it doesn't overstay it's welcome. The final two tracks are a bit weak, "Blues" and "Bandit Country," so the album kinda fades away rather than ending on a powerful note.

La Raza is not Armored Saint's best album ever, but having Symbol of Salvation on your discography kinda skews things. This is a really, really solid hard rock/metal album. It's enjoying heavy, heavy rotation on my zune right now, and I expect it to be there for a while.

Four out of five stars, and a big recommendation if you like this style of music.

Also of note: I am so very excited that Them Crooked Vultures are coming back to Chicago in May. I am waiting with baited breath to get my ticket.

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