Super is compared far and wide to Kick-Ass its cousin-of-sorts and people have the right to do that. They’re both films about losers without super powers attempting to become super heroes but that’s where the comparisons can and should end. However I need one more to kick off my review. While they’re both great movies with similar concepts Kick-Ass takes a very stylized comic book approach to the material whereas Super is treated as if it takes place in the real world with real world consequences. Both methods serve their respective narratives well and since we can enjoy both of these movies at the same time without taking away anything from either we don’t have to say which one does the concept better.
The film comes from writer/director James Gunn previously responsible for of all things the awesome Slither and writing the better-than-expected live action Scooby Doo movies. The film follows Frank (Rainn Wilson) a down on his luck diner cook who decides to become a super hero after he watches his girlfriend (Liv Tyler) get taken by the town’s local bad guy (Kevin Bacon) and then is touched by God (literally). He gains the attention of the local comic book store employee (Ellen Page - delightfully dirty) and soon they team up as the Crimson Bolt and Bolty.
Gunn is considered a horror auteur and the film shows his roots. It’s incredibly violent (and I do mean VIOLENT) gory (lots o’blood) and profane (Ellen Page in Juno - eat your heart out!) but also incredibly funny. The potentially off-putting thing about Super is how Gunn manages to weave each aspect into the story seamlessly. But isn’t life like that? One minute you’re laughing while beating up an old lady the next you’re sad because your dog died (none of those things happen in the film but you feel those sentiments within minutes of each other). Some will detract the film for its tonal shifts but that was exactly what Gunn set out to do. And I think he succeeded quite masterfully.
The main thing about this film is that it works. Everything feels real every move feels correct and all the characters are dynamic. While Wilson is playing another sad sack like Dwight Shrute that’s about as similar as the two get. His violent outbursts create a character far removed from anything in Scranton. Page is the surprise ace-in-the-sleeve; she delves into the profanity and gore with glee. Everyone gets their own moment for a big laugh and a big action piece even Nathan Fillion who shows up in a religious subplot involving a Christian superhero. I can’t stress how violent and funny (emphasis on both) this film is and how well it works together.
My only problem is that towards the end it becomes a little too comic book-y (like Kick-Ass) but it is handled in such a realistic way that this is a very small complaint. To sum up I present the notes (as a poem) that I started to take before I gave up and just enjoyed the movie:
Opening sequence - amazing
Burnt burgers give you cancer
Tentacle Rape Porn
Shut up crime!
Take Me Home Tonight directed by Michael Dowse is a comedy about the ‘80s but its futility is timeless: In just about any decade it would be considered generic and unfunny. Set in 1988 it stars the likable and witty Topher Grace as Matt a recent MIT grad with a crippling case of post-college career-indecision. Working as a lowly clerk at a video store he has a chance encounter with his high-school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) who to his (and our) surprise actually displays faint interest in him. But Matt fails to pull the trigger and so he resolves to make up for his lack of cojones when he sees her later that evening at a party hosted by the preppy douchebag boyfriend (Chris Pratt) of his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris).
This sets the stage for an eventual romantic union between Matt and Tori; until then there is insecurity to overcome and wacky adventures to be had. Many of the latter stem from the increasingly unhinged behavior of Matt’s best friend Barry (Dan Fogler). The film turns on a bag of cocaine Barry finds in the glove compartment of a Mercedes stolen from the dealership that fired him earlier in the day. Cocaine is renowned for its ability to induce euphoria in even the most mundane of settings but it has arguably the opposite effect on Take Me Home Tonight. I consider Fogler to be a legitimately funny guy but he has the irritating tendency to compensate for underwritten material by wildly overacting. Throw in a bag of blow and that tendency is amplified ten-fold.
A happy standout in the film is Palmer who brings a liveliness and dignity to the stereotypical rom-com role of the Otherworldly Hottie Who Inexplicably Falls for the Stammering Schlub. (It also helps that she's the only member of the main cast who is young enough to realistically portray a recent college graduate.) She is one of the more talented young Australian exports to arrive on our shores in quite some time and has the potential to become a saucier version of fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman. That is if she finds material better than Take Me Home Tonight.
The American military has always been at the forefront of technological innovation often working on the fringes of scientific credibility in its constant search for new ways to locate and eliminate enemies. At times the military's eagerness to gain an edge over its adversaries has led it to some strange dark places many of which are chronicled in The Men Who Stare at Goats British author Jon Ronson’s real-life account of the U.S. government’s efforts to create an army of “psychic supersoldiers."
If you’re not familiar with the world of psychic warfare (and really why would you be?) the book’s title refers to an experiment conducted during the 1980s at Fort Bragg North Carolina in which specially trained soldiers using methods culled from the top-secret First Earth Battalion Operations Manual attempted to stop the heart of a goat using nothing but the power of the mind. The ultimate goal obviously was to develop the skill for eventual use on enemy combatants.
Chock full of similarly wild yet credible stories The Men Who Stare at Goats’ strange-but-true subject matter lends itself perfectly to film adaptation. Its structure — a disparate collection of loosely related vignettes covering over a 30-year timespan — does not. Nevertheless director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan gave it a shot refashioning the material to such an extent that the movie is no longer “based upon” Ronson’s book but instead merely “inspired by” it.
Thankfully Heslov kept intact two of the book’s greatest strengths: its lively irreverent tone and its fascinating array of colorful characters. The latter is no doubt what attracted the film’s star-studded cast led by George Clooney as Lyn Cassady a fidgety veteran of the “psychic spy” brigade whose chance meeting with journalist Bob Wilton Ronson’s onscreen counterpart (played as an American ironically by U.K. actor Ewan McGregor) provides the catalyst for the storyline.
As Cassady squires Wilton through the Iraqi desert en route he claims to a contracting gig he regales the awe-struck reporter with stories of the New Earth Army and its founder a Vietnam vet-turned-New Age acolyte named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). In the early '80s Django now a ponytailed flower child managed to obtain Army approval to spearhead a pilot program that would to train a legion of “warrior monks” to read minds pass through walls and disable enemies through a wide variety of non-lethal methods.
Any program like the New Earth Army is bound to attract its share of bad apples amoral folk who aim to use its teachings to enrich themselves and cause harm to others. In The Men Who Stare at Goats the entire rotten orchard is represented by Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) a sleazy manipulative charlatan whose devious machinations ultimately serve to bring down the entire operation.
Goats is at its loopy best as Cassady cycles through various off-the-wall anecdotes of Django and his increasingly bizarre training methods. But it falls apart when Heslov attempts to weave it all into a coherent storyline complete with a climax centered on a hairbrained scheme to spike the water supply at an American fort with LSD. It's understandable that Heslov felt compelled to invent something that could bring some resolution to the story but getting everyone high on acid? It sounds like a gimmick stolen from one of the lesser Revenge of the Nerds sequels.
Needless to say that last part wasn’t in Ronson’s book.