NOWHERE BOY: The Film Babble Blog Review

NOWHERE BOY (Dir. Sam Taylor-Wood, 2010)

The famous guitar chord that kicks off the song and the movie A HARD DAY’S NIGHT also begins this film in which we see a 17 year old John Lennon running down a Liverpudian sidewalk.

But he’s not being chased by a crowd of screaming teenage girls – that wouldn’t be for several years – he’s apparently caused some mischief and it looks like the police may be after him.

As embodied by Aaron Johnson (the kid from KICK-ASS!) the Lennon of 1958 is a tall kid with an Elvis style pompadour. Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Wild One” tells us what we need to know about his character during the opening titles.

Lennon lives with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall) who he’s really close to. Uncle George dies and at his funeral Lennon catches a glimpse of a red-haired woman named Julia. Beatles fans should know that this is Lennon’s mother.

Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), for reasons that aren’t clear, had left her 5 year son in the care of Aunt Mimi. Lennon has flashes of memories from his past but they’re too fleeting to be of much narrative use.

While suspended from school Lennon hides out at his mother’s house bonding with her as she teaches him how to play the banjo. When she finds out, Aunt Mimi is furious and Lennon decides he’d rather stay with his mother.

He also decides to start a skiffle band called the Quarrymen and recruits some of his fellow students. At one of their first concerts Lennon meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) who says he’s 15, but he looks like he’s 8 years old.

However this isn’t about the birth of the biggest band in the world – which are never named incidentally – it’s about the young Lennon’s relationships with his mother and his Aunt and how these 2 diametrically oppossed personalities shaped his psyche.

Johnson carries the film with a convincing Lennon. His accent is dead-on and doesn’t come off as a thick or cheap impression at all. The British actor has got down the phrasing of sarcastic quips as well as Lennon’s brooding intensity that I didn’t think he had in him after seeing “Kick-Ass”. Not that he was bad in that previous film – there just weren’t hints of anything like this.

Anne-Marie Duff rises above the screenplay’s painting of Julia as a flighty flirty floozy. Scott-Thomas scowls effectively as the angry yet loving Aunt and she steals many of the scenes she’s in.

David Morrissey as Lennon’s step-father mostly just looks on disapprovingly while Sangster makes the most of the small yet pivotal part of Paul.

“Nowhere Boy” is respectful and heartfelt but it’s not without its shortcomings. The arc of the supposed mystery of why Julia abandoned her son is handled in a hazy way marring the impact of the payoff.

This doesn’t mean it’s not extremely worthwhile – Like Lennon himself its charms outweigh its defects. Especially considering its sensational ‘50s soundtrack including classics from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Gene Vincent, and one of Lennon’s greatest influences: Elvis Presley.

Johnson does his own vocals throughout the film, but the real Nowhere Man is featured via an alternate take of “Mother” which plays on top of the obligatory yet unavoidable black and white archival photo montage conclusion.

More later…

KICK-ASS: The Film Babble Blog Review

KICK-ASS (Dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2010)

Aaron Johnson, as geeky high school student Dave Lizewski, wonders in a world where millions love comic book and movie superheroes, why don’t more people actually try to become real-life superheroes? His mother has just died, he’s invisible to girls, and chronic masturbating is his biggest hobby (yeah, I know – TMI) so we can see why he fantasizes so vividly about being a superhero. Not letting the fact that he possesses no special powers get in his way he orders a green wetsuit online, dubs himself “Kick-Ass”, and sets about fighting crime on the streets of New York City.

Kick-Ass gets his ass horribly kicked by a couple of petty thugs on his first outing enough to put him in the hospital. He’s not deterred from his superhero pursuits though, because he’s now reconstructed with metal grafts and with his deadened nerve endings he can fight without pain. So when another brawl is captured by camera phones he becomes an internet sensation via YouTube and a household name.

A girl he has a crush on (Lyndsy Fonseca) suddenly takes an interest in him, but as his snarky friends (Clark Duke and Evan Peters) suggest it’s because she thinks he’s gay. Fonseca has no inkling of Johnson’s infamous alter ego when she emails Kick-Ass’s MySpace account (the only aspect of the film that feels out of date) asking for help. A dangerous drug dealer is harassing her at the needle exchange clinic she works at and immediately Kick-Ass is on the case.

However, the pile of bodies that results in a ghetto showdown comes not from Kick-Ass, but from the surprise appearance of “Hit-Girl” (Chloe Moretz). The foul mouthed and fast acting Hit-Girl (who’s 11 by the way) takes no prisoners, killing every attacking lowlife and leaving Kick-Ass stunned. She’s the real deal he sees, and she’s the protégé of another real deal – her father Nicholas Cage as “Big Daddy” whose shiny black costume makes him look like Batman’s brother and he has lethal weaponry out the wazoo to match.

From here out Hit-Girl and Big Daddy steal the movie from Kick-Ass and he never quite gets it back. The villains they all go up against are big time mob boss Mark Strong and his son, McLovin himself – Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who has his own mock superhero guise: Red Mist.

Kick-Ass calls it quits now that shit just got real (not a line from the film but it just as well could be) and comes out as straight to Fonseca – the old pretending he’s gay in order to get closer to her premise you see. Of course, he’s gonna have to get back in the game and join Hit-Girl for the inevitable action movie climax.

KICK-ASS has so many successful sequences going for it that I can overlook the myriad of problems I have with it, but for the record here they are. The satirical nature of the material replaced with predictable noisy bombastic mechanics in the last third, with the laughs sadly fading with the satire. And in the words of Grandpa Simpson: “The romantic subplot felt tacked on.”

That said, KICK-ASS has a great cast – Johnson, Mintz-Plasse, and Strong are all solid and it’s great to see a porn-stached Cage chew up the scenery with Moretz whose Hit-Girl poise, presence and power, as I said before, really steals the show. That is, if you don’t mind the extreme profanity and ultra violence that she brings.

Don’t bring the kids, or even the kid inside you to see this movie; it’s an dark adult shoot-em up with a high body count packaged as a teenage superhero comedy – it’s SKY HIGH as directed by Quentin Tarentino. It might not kick ass as much as I thought it could, but, as it’s the first major movie to use the internet popularized phrase that something or someone “owns”, for the most part it does indeed own.

More later…