Friday, June 27, 2008


“Your father died yesterday on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Building. He was one of the greatest assassins who ever lived, and the other one is behind you.”

Stuck in a dead-end job with a girlfriend (Kristen Hager) who’s cheating on him with his best friend (Chris Pratt), a ball-busting boss (Lorna Scott), and a general sense of utter futility, Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is not just having a bad year, but a bad life.

All this changes when he’s approached by a beautiful woman called the Fox (Angelina Jolie) who informs him his father, the greatest assassin to ever live, has just been killed and the man responsible (Thomas Kretschmann) is now gunning for him. Wesley finds himself thrown into a world he never imagined.

The Fraternity of Assassins led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman) shows Wesley he has the special talent and abilities of his father which make him a perfect candidate for the Fraternity.

Choosing to give-up his old life Wesley jumps into the training which basically entails him getting the ever-living-snot beat out of him over and over again. He trains to become the world’s best assassin able to bend bullets fired from his gun and kill from even miles away.

In this world, much like The Matrix the laws of physics can be bent which provides for some awesome, if competely unbelievable, stunt sequences involving cars, trains, guns, and even a computer keyboard. You’ll have to suspend your logic for most of this film, but you’ll be able to let your imagination run wild.

Adapted from the comic book mini-series by Mark Millar (read that review) the film is a never-ending pulse-pounding thrill-ride. It gets the feel and dark humor of Wesley’s former life and the thrill of his new one perfectly. McAvoy is well-cast here in a role which let’s him play a character who goes through signifcant changes over the course of the film. Jolie is beautiful and deadly, and the other members of the Fraternity including Freeman, Terrence Stamp, Dato Bakhtadze, and Common all play their parts well.

It does however make a couple of mistakes, mostly in deviating from Millar’s original story. Instead of super villains these are assassins. Okay, I can live with that, but the film also adds an unlikely plot device of the Loom of Fate (Loom of Fate? Come on!) which is just too silly to be taken seriously (even for a “comic book movie”).

The ending of the film also contains a twist, similar though different from the original. This is where the film deviates the most from the original source material, and in true Hollywood fashion creates a hero where one isn’t needed, or wanted. The message of Millar’s original work was that the heroes were gone, and Wesley, as cool as he is, is a dangerous prick and not the man to save the day and give you a happy ending.

Although the film makes some mistakes those unfamiliar with the graphic novel should have a grand ol’ time, and fans of the original should still be able to enjoy themselves (even with that stupid Loom of Fate). Is it everything it could have been? No, but, even if it doesn’t get the story quite right, it does bring the feel and fun of the original to the big screen and provides a couple hours of dark humor, bloodshed, and explosions which are worth the ticket price.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


“I am John Wayne in True Grit. I am Charles Bronson in Death Wish. I am Clint Eastwood in all five Dirty Harry flicks and all the best spaghetti westerns. I am Jean-Claude van Damme. I am Sly Stallone. I am Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and Chuck Norris in the Way of the Dragon. I am Lee Marvin. I am Sean Connery. I am Arnold Goddam Schwarzenegger…and you my friend, are fucked.”

Wesley Gibson is a loser. Every day Wesley goes to his dead-end job, taking shit from his boss and hiding out in his cubicle. His best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend, he’s a hyproconriac, and views himself as the most insignifigant man on the face of the planet. However, all that is about to change.

Wesley’s father, a man he has never met, is killed and Wesley is tapped by his father’s friends to continue in his stead. You see Wesley’s father was a super villain known as The Killer, and Wesley, unbeknownst to him, has inherited his father’s gifts for killing. Wesley is recruited by the Fraternity, a group of super villains who now rule the world from behind the scenes after eliminating the last of the super-heroes back in 1986. Through magic, science, and mind control they have remade the world to forget about heroes and give themselves ultimate power.

Mark Millar‘s dark tale isn’t for everyone. It’s shocking, rude, and with an in-your-face attitude that many may find hard to enjoy. That’s too bad, because it’s filled with a dark joy, humor, and action that is so good it’s almost addictive.

Through Millar’s tale, and art by J.G. Jones, we travel through Wesley’s transformation from office grunt to the most dangerous man on the face of the planet. In many ways it runs like a super-hero origin, except there are no super-heroes here. It would have been an easy cop-out to have Wesley become the world’s greatest hero, but (thankfully) that’s not the tale Millar sets out to tell. Wesley becomes more dangerous, more disturbed, and more violent as the book continues. It is impossible to argue that the world is better off having this new version of Wesley, and very easy to see the exact opposite is true.

Over the course of the series there are twist and turns, sex, death, a power struggle between the heads of the Fraternity which erupts into civil war between super villains, and some of the most casual conversations about rape, murder, torture, and all types of crime you are ever likely to read in a comic.

The mini-series has been packaged with the Wanted: Dossier, character designs, deleted scenes, a cover gallery, and introduction from Brian K. Vaughan, in both a trade paperback and hardcover “Assassin’s Edition” version. I’d recommend the handsome hardcover for ten dollars more, complete with an inside cover centerfold of the character of the Fox (designed off Halle Berry).

There’s much here to enjoy, and Millar has packed the book with allusions, some obvious and some subtle, to many other comic characters and works. These include basing many of the series’ characters off of DC and Marvel heroes and villains, the chosen date of the super-villains triumph - 1986, the burning of a Marvel comic during Wesley’s initiation, and (perhaps my favorite) the deaths of once great heroes who now believe they are only actors in a cheesy TV show in what is obviously an homage to Adam West and Burt Ward.

Because of it’s dark and flippant tone to itself, to its own subject matter, and to comic readers themselves, the series doesn’t have quite the fan following you’d expect for a comic this good. Many object to the “moral” of the tale and the ending, but in my opinion it’s the only place Millar left the protaganist (you can’t call Wesley a hero) to go. Is it a bit mean-spirited? Is it a bit on-the-nose? Is it more than a little true? Yes, and it’s damn funny, too. In style, storytelling, and kick ass adventure, Wanted gives you both barrels.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Get Smart

“I am not completely incompetent.”

Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is an analyst for CONTROL, a secret underground spy organization. Although intelligent, Max is clumsy, awkward, and is known for the mind-numbing level of detail he puts into his job.

When CONTROL is attacked by the terrorist organization known as KAOS, the Chief (Alan Arkin) has no choice but to make Max an agent and pair him with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway), who has recently gone through plastic surgery (the reasons for which make less sense than anything else in the film), for an important mission.

That’s the basic outline of the plot, which never really seems to get developed past the outline stage. The film instead provides situations for Carell to get himself and 99 both into and out of danger, almost always making a fool out of himself in the process. Carell is good here, and there’s a nice playful chemistry which slowly develops with Hathaway. And Alan Arkin, and Dwayne “Stop Calling Me The Rock” Johnson provide some nice moments as well.

The trouble comes as the script doesn’t ask anything more than for Carell to be awkward, Hathaway to fall for him, and the rest of the cast to show up and hit their marks. More often than not you’ll be scratching your head and saying, well yes that’s funny (or at least not groan worthy), but why, other than to get laughs, is this sequence in the film? Max and 99 jump out of a plane, Max talks to an agent in a tree (Bill Murray), the other field agents are forced to be analysts. Does this provide some laughs? Sure, but none if it really makes much sense to the overall plot (or lack thereof) of the film. Had the time been taken to come up with a better developed story which gave these actors more to do the result would have been much more satisfying.

Get Smart has its moments, but nearly all come from rountines and situations which are all only loosely tied to the main storyline. Although it gets the style of the television show right (I like the look a lot, especially the door sequence) its reliance on gags and laughs wears a bit thin when stretched over 110 minutes. It feels too much like a a collection of better than averrage SNL skits put together than a complete film. There aren’t quite enough of these moments to make me recommend the film, but there are enough of them to keep it afloat and mildly entertaining throughout most of its running time. My recommendation? Wait for the DVD.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

“Don’t let it beat you.”

The American Girl series focuses on young fictional heroines centered in and around important historical events. The Mattel dolls have spawned books, magazines, and countless accessories, and now a major motion picture.

Abigail Breslin stars as the precocious Margaret Mildred “Kit” Kittredge, an aspiring pre-adolescent reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio, during the Great Depression. Kit’s life, and those of her firends and neighbors are turned upside down due to the Depression which causes her father (Chris O’Donnell) to seek employment in Chicago and her mother (Julia Ormond) to take in boarders (who include Joan Cusack, Stanley Tucci, Glenne Headly, and Jane Krakowski) to make ends meet.

Kit takes most of this in stride and attempts to use her new experience to become a real reporter and get her first story in print, if she can just get her work past that persnickety editor (Wallace Shawn).

There are subplots throughout the film including Kit’s run-ins with other children at school, the lives of the local hobos including her new friends Will (Max Thieriot) and Countee (Willow Smith), and a mystery which, in true Nancy Drew fashion, only Kit is able to solve. The film is at it’s best however when it focuses on how everyday life, and Kit’s opinions and preconceptions, change throughout the film.

The Diagnosis
Okay, so it’s not a great film, but for a G-Rated film aimed specifically at young girls, and providing a tiny bit of history, it works. Most of the credit goes to Breslin infusing the character with an intelligence and spirit without which the entire enterprise could have been a dreadful bore. If you’ve got young daughters or granddaughters you might want to give Kit Kittredge a chance.