Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Plus Six, by Juno

Bad reviews are fun to write, but a collection of good movie reviews probably is more useful to anyone pondering the next Netflix option. I always consider user reviews when making picks (though I don’t always rely on them). So, below are a few recently viewed films, on or soon to be on DVD, all of which nudged my thumbs upward. Below these are six more starring an interesting young actress.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) – Chloe Grace Moretz doesn’t often play a normal human being, but when a script calls for a homicidal costumed vigilante (Kick-Ass), a vampire (Let Me In), or a werewolf (Dark Shadows), Chloe is likely to be at the top of the casting director’s call list. In Kick-Ass 2, released this past summer, she reprised her role as Hit Girl. I own the Kick-Ass comics (yes, I’m one of those) by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., both of whom previously honed their skills at Marvel. For all the reputation of mainstream Western comic book/graphic novel publishers as purveyors of violence and adolescent sexual fantasies, they are surprisingly antiseptic in their portrayals of such stuff, even today. Millar and Romita are unabashedly septic with their own comics, which nonetheless have clever plots, characters, and dialogue. Overall, Kick-Ass (the movie), in which characters dress up as superheroes to fight crime, followed the comic book pretty closely – with a couple of significant deviations I’ll leave as a surprise for the reader. The film adaptation didn’t pull any punches. The tongue-in-cheek violence offended some viewers (including Roger Ebert), but, in general, Kick-Ass met with positive reviews from critics and from audiences.

Kick-Ass 2 (the movie) is adapted from the two subsequent graphic novels Hit Girl and Kick-Ass 2. Chloe, as she was in the first film, is the most enjoyable presence in it. This time the movie does pull its punches, leaving out two very disturbing episodes present in the printed version including an attack on Katie, the would-be girlfriend of Dave (Kick-Ass). Despite this, the second film is more violent than the first – to the point that Jim Carrey expressed regret for appearing in it. I’ve read numerous viewer reviews saying the sequel is better than the original; this is such a puzzling reaction that I don’t quite know what to make of it – other than to guess that the grander scale of the action scenes is responsible for it. The movie is not better (or nearly as good) on any other basis. Nevertheless, if you liked the first movie, as I did, you’ll probably want to see the second just in order to finish the story arc.  It is good enough, but, if you see only one, see the first one.

The World’s End (2013) – Five unlikely high school friends try to drink in every bar on the street in the town of Newton Haven. The quantity of alcohol is too much, so they never finish their pub crawl. 20 years later, at the insistence of the one total failure among the five, they try it again. Their goal is to reach the final pub this time, named The World’s End. While drinking their way up the street, they discover the town has been taken over by alien robots. Are the aliens plotting the world’s end? The premise sounds incredibly silly, now that I write it, and it is. But it is also quite funny. Give it a try – the movie, that is, not the pub crawl.

Igby Goes Down (2002). 17-year-old Igby (Kieran Culkin) is a member of an upper-crust family, but his mother (Susan Sarandon) is a callous pill-popping alcoholic and his father is insane – though fortuitously he had his breakdown only after solidifying the family fortune. The movie opens with Igby and his older “neo-fascist” brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) plotting to kill their mother. The film then flashes back. The misfit Igby fails in a series of tony private schools because of his disrespectful attitude. The problem is just his attitude, for he makes far too many intellectual jokes to lack academic ability. (When asked why he calls his mother Mimi, for example, he says “‘Medea’ was taken.”) Sooner or later, he provokes almost everyone in his life into lashing out at him. (Oliver: “I think if Gandhi had had to hang out with you for any prolonged period of time, he'd have ended up kicking the shit out of you.”) Igby sees no reason to show respect to the disrespectable. There is a reason though, as many (not all) of us after adolescence learn. Having had a kinder mom probably would have saved him a world of trouble, but warmth was outside Mimi’s capacity for reasons of her own. This is a dark and quirky coming of age film with an understated commentary on class. Recommended.


Not a Preface but a Midface: One of my favorite newer faces on the screen is the young English actress Juno Temple, who – whether by good fortune, good advice, or good judgment – always seems to be in films that are, at the very least, interesting. She shows up in supporting or minor roles in mainstream Hollywood movies from time to time (e.g. as Catwoman’s girlfriend in The Dark Knight Rises or as Patsy in Lovelace), but her forte is playing major characters in smaller independent productions. It’s not that she is irreplaceable in any of her roles. She isn’t. But there is no reason to replace her, and her presence is a good sign that the script has something to offer. She is a busy actress, and, in truth, I’ve not seen the majority of the movies in which she has a prominent part. The ones I’ve viewed, though, are listed below, and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. I’ve mentioned a few of these in previous posts, but it’s worth putting them all in one place.

Dirty Girl (2011) – For her role as a troubled teen in 1987 Oklahoma, Juno Temple nailed a Border State accent – as did Russo-Serbian actress Milla Jovavich, playing her mom. It would come in handy in future parts. The film barely flickered across big screens, but critics noticed it anyway, and with good reason. Dirty Girl at first blush seems to be yet another lowbrow high school comedy of the sort we’ve all seen many times before, but it quickly morphs into a very different animal. Danielle (Juno), raised by a single mom with marginal finances, thinks the father she never met might save her from her unhappy life. She studiously avoids asking herself why he is absent now. Her gay friend Clarke meanwhile needs to escape from his homophobic dad and his insufficiently assertive mother. A road trip and a very 80s sound track ensue; offbeat humor mixes with high sentiment along the way. Sentiment in teen movies doesn’t always work well, but this time it does almost perfectly.

Little Birds (2011) – Two teen girls (Juno Temple and Kay Panabaker) live in a dreary run-down former resort town on the Salton Sea. They meet boys from Los Angeles who are there to skateboard in an empty pool that is well suited for the purpose. The girls “borrow” a truck (one of them reluctantly) and run off to LA to join them. The boys are waifs who live in an abandoned motel and get money through petty crime. The arrival of the girls gives them an idea for a more ambitious scheme. What could go wrong?

Killer Joe (2011) – Matthew McConaughey is Joe, a Texas police detective who is a contract assassin on the side. Trailer park resident Ansel lives with his daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) and his new squeeze Sharla; at the urging of his son Chris, Ansel hires Joe to kill Ansel’s ex-wife. They believe her life insurance money will go to Dottie. Dottie is indeed dotty – not firing on all synapses – but she is a sweet young thing who is innocent and seductive at the same time. Joe normally demands a $25,000 fee up front. Chris and Ansel don’t have the cash, but Joe accepts Dottie as a “retainer” pending the insurance payoff. This film caught heat from critics for degrading way Joe treats Sharla at one point to establish his authority, but the scene does tell us clearly who Joe is. This is a disturbing movie, but, if you’re not easily offended, it is worth a look.

Magic Magic (2013) – This odd movie is categorized by IMDB as a “thriller.” I’m not sure that’s right, but it is close enough. Alicia (Juno) is a young woman with some mental health problems, but at first they don’t seem severe or debilitating. We learn during the course of the movie, however, that she takes a lot of pills. She arrives in Chile from California to vacation with her cousin Sarah and Sarah’s friends. One of those friends is a creepy character named Brink (Michael Cera) who displays an unwelcome interest in Alicia. Suffering from insomnia, Alicia grows unsure of the boundary between dreams and reality. Are her suspicions that these people are playing sadistic games on her justified, or is she being paranoid? When Alicia’s mental and physical health deteriorates seriously, will local magical folk customs and remedies help her, or will they drive her over the edge? The film achieves a spooky mood, but if you want all questions to have neat answers, Magic Magic isn’t for you. The movie reaches a grim conclusion, but some loose ends are left deliberately untied.

The Brass Teapot (2013) – As so often in Juno Temple movies, a hackneyed premise twists into something unexpected. A young Indiana couple (Juno Temple and Michael Angarano) is struggling financially. Juno discovers her Bachelor’s degree is useless for landing the sort of job she wants. Michael loses his salesman’s job. Is a magical teapot the solution? Unfortunately, the teapot rewards them with cash only when they hurt themselves or each other – and not just physically. They later learn they can profit from the suffering of others, too. How far will they go down this sinister path? How far would you? This is a better dark comedy than it has any right to be.

Afternoon Delight (2013) – If you blinked, you might have missed this little comedy about a couple, Rachel and Jeff, whose marriage has grown tiresome and nearly sexless. In order to spice things up, Rachel goes to a strip club. Rachel, without consulting her husband, invites one of the strippers (Juno Temple) to move in with them. Once again, against any reasonable expectation, the film pulls the viewer in. It has unoriginal (and debatable) but noteworthy things to say about what is and isn’t important in personal morals and in relationships. Quentin Tarantino, of all people, picked it as one of the top ten films for 2013.

IMDB lists four Juno movies either filming or in post-production for 2014. I see no reason to avoid them.


  1. As always, thanks for the reviews. I hadn't heard of quite of few of Temple's films, so that was handy!

    I really enjoyed "Hot Fuzz" and "Shawn of the Dead" so I'm looking forward to seeing "World's End".

    Sorry to hear about "Kick-ass 2". I really enjoyed the first one. But you were right Chloe made the movie.

    1. Kick-Ass 2 isn't bad,'s a sequel. Only the rare sequel (e.g. Aliens) is better than the original, and this isn't one of those exceptions. Also, if you've read the comic, you know where the studio said "No way, that's TOO much." It's still worth seeing if you liked the first one, though.

      World's End is a fine capper to Wright's previous films.

      I've always found myself liking a movie with Juno more than I expected to. There is bound to be an exception eventually, but it hasn't happened yet.