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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Kick-Ass

'Chronicle': Like 'Paranormal Activity,' but with superpowers?

October 21, 2011 |  6:26 pm

"Paranormal Activity 3" will dominate the box office this weekend. But why should Paramount have all the fun?

So goes the thinking at rival 20th Century Fox, which is set to make its own entrance into the low-budget genre-movie game with a film called "Chronicle."

Directed by the newcomer Josh Trank and written by emerging screenwriter Max Landis (Shawn Levy's in-development "Frankenstein," and son of John Landis), the February release centers on a trio of prankster teenagers who discover they have superhuman powers. It's "Kick-Ass" meets 'Jackass."

The newly released trailer is below, and while this sort of shaky-cam, found-footage-y storytelling can be a mixed bag, there's certainly plenty here to intrigue. For starters, the superpowers are, refreshingly, used not for some kind of global domination but for seemingly ordinary teenage pranks — and then, as the stakes rise, for something more dangerous (but still human).

The movie — budgeted at about $15 million, according to a person familiar with the project — no doubt hopes to follow in the footsteps of another low-budget genre film released in winter, "Cloverfield," in addition to the Halloween-pegged "Paranormal."

As it happens, the movie has another "Paranormal" connection — Trank was discovered when he directed additional scenes for "Paranormal 2" that were used in the marketing of that film. Fox no doubt hopes less is more on "Chronicle." Films fans do too.


'Paranormal Activity' scares by the numbers, critics say

The week in film: 'Paranormal Activity' and 'Margin Call'

'Paranormal Activity 3' to frighten rivals

— Steven Zeitchik



'Kick-Ass' star Aaron Johnson on the short list for Spider-Man reboot

June 11, 2010 | 12:13 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Since it was announced back in the winter, some have hoped/worried that Marc Webb's Spider-Man reboot will go in a "Kick-Ass" direction, a not unreasonable thought given multiple parallels between the two stories as well as the warm reception (if not exactly hot box office) that greeted "Kick-Ass."

Could it now go that way literally?

You can add two names to the growing list of (very early) candidates for the young Peter Parker, and one of them is Aaron Johnson, who played the titular nerd-hero in "Kick-Ass," sources say.

Johnson, who for months has been the subject of relentless online speculation about his suitability for the part, would indeed in many ways make an appropriate choice. His role in "Kick-Ass" saw him as a seemingly ordinary teenager transformed into a superhero, much in the way of Parker's Spider-Man. Of course, the analogy is also off in several key ways: Johnson was a fake superhero, not a real one, and his star in the film was eclipsed by Chloe Moretz's Hit-Girl.

The second actor to make his way on to the shortlist of the Sony film, according to sources, is Anton Yelchin, who has been coming on strong since his 2009 double-whammy of "Star Trek" and "Terminator Salvation."

Yelchin would have his champions too. His supporting role as Chekov in "Star Trek" didn't leave a deep impression, but he did steal the show as Kyle Reese in "Terminator Salvation."

Both of the new names are a bit more prominent than the actors who have previously surfaced. That list includes "Billy Elliot" star Jamie Bell, "Harry Potter" actor Frank Dillane, "The Kids Are All Right" costar Josh Hutcherson and up-and-comers Alden Ehrenreich and Andrew Garfield.

Of course, just the fact that these actors are being considered means little in practice. Over the last few months, director Marc Webb has canvassed a wide group of young actors with the aim of seeing which one he and and the studio should anoint to take the role previously filled by Tobey Maguire. Screen testing is expected to start shortly. And the hue and cry over whether the right choice was made will follow shortly after that.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Aaron Johnson (center) in "Kick-Ass." Credit: Lionsgate

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Why 'Kick-Ass' failed (and did it really?)

April 19, 2010 |  9:32 am


It seems a little wrong for us to evaluate the disappointing $19.8-million take of "Kick-Ass" this weekend when we (and many others) were, prior to its release, touting a possible runaway success.  But quarterbacks wake up on Monday too, and so it seems only right to take a look at what went wrong with Matthew Vaughn's stylishly bloody kid-superhero picture, based on Mark Millar's equally stylish and smart graphic novel. Here are a number of misconceptions held by us (and others) that were disproved this weekend (to go along with our belief that this movie could well pick up a little momentum and perform nicely in the coming weeks).

Many young people in this country are ready to embrace the shocking.
Tolerance for violence in youth-oriented movies has been growing for years, and even movies aimed at young people that land an R rating can become hits ("Borat" comes to mind). So apart from the 16-and-under crowd that couldn't (officially) get in -- and we all knew about that problem before -- the envelope-pushing of "Kick-Ass" wasn't going to deter any film-goers. But it turns out that large swaths of the country may not crave the shock-worthy, at least not the overt kind. Package those shocks in innocuous wrapping -- like a mustachioed Eastern European man and a harmlessly funny title -- and you're fine. But put them front-and-center and you're in trouble. All we needed to know about Middle America's discomfort with the film came when we saw a theater marquee in western North Carolina, where we're writing this; the theater wouldn't even use the second word of the title, preferring dashes instead. That's never a good indicator.

The mainstream is tired of the straight superhero story and wants something that subverts the form.

No matter how some try to categorize it, "Kick-Ass" isn't really a movie about superheroes. The character has as many powers as a house rabbit. The person who saves everyone is an 11-year-old in a purple wig. The characters in the film are, for one of the first time in movie history, just as slyly knowing of the tropes and conventions of superhero films as those watching it. "Kick-Ass" isn't so much a superhero movie as it is a post-superhero movie. In the era of "The Dark Knight" and Robert Downey Jr.'s "Iron Man," this is what we want, right?

Not exactly. Sure, "Dark Knight" raised the levels of darkness and complexity. And Downey in "Iron Man" makes self-effacing jokes about invincibility and freakish powers. But those films are ultimately still superhero movies. They improve the genre; they don't subvert it. And parts of the American audience, for whatever reason, don't want subversion when it comes to superhero movies. The only other big commercial film that really tried this before? "Watchmen." Exactly.

Kickass Controversy will sell tickets.

That's true -- but only if the right people object. They didn't here. Parents groups weren't debating "Kick-Ass" before the film was released-- critics were. And if critics matter less at the box office when recommending a movie, they matter less when objecting to it. That said, Lionsgate should have seized on the unrest. See how the CW turns the protestations over "Gossip Girl" to its marketing advantage by incorporating them into its campaigns? That could have worked nicely here too.

Internet buzz means robust ticket sales.
Actually, this one we believe. Yes, there's always a "Snakes on a Plane" that proves the exception. But that film was largely embraced as a goof, and goofy doesn't sell tickets. On fan sites and on Twitter, the Internet masses sincerely embraced "Kick-Ass." It's just that those masses were only large enough to sell a certain amount of tickets (and we still maintain that the movie will hold rather well in the coming weeks anyway, thanks in part to said buzz).

An abstract marketing campaign is almost foolproof.

If "Paranormal Activity" and other films can become mega-hits with marketers carefully withholding information about a movie's content, this film will too.  But simply throwing up some posters that obscures a movie's plot and themes, as Lionsgate did here, isn't enough. You have to give people a reason to care about what you're not telling them. And the studio didn't sufficiently do that.

Finally, after saying all this, we're not convinced that "Kick-Ass" is indeed a failure. That's not just because to negate that designation is to avoid buying co-workers lunch (or at least eating less crow when we do). There's a genuine success story lurking beneath "Kick-Ass," and not just for Lionsgate, which only bought the movie in August and will earn back its investment. This is a film that no studio wanted to make, one that Vaughn produced, financed and even promoted himself, in a time when it's harder than ever to do those things on your own.

And how did it work out? Last year, "Kick-Ass" became one of the only movies in Comic-con history to generate significant buzz despite the absence of studio backing. And just eight months later it will turn a tidy $40-$50 million at the domestic box office, a number well higher than its production budget. Do that at Sundance and you're a legend. Vaughn may not be that, but he's no slouch either.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Upper photo: Chloe Moretz in "Kick-Ass."  Credit: Lionsgate

Lower photo: A poster for "Kick-Ass." Credit: Lionsgate


'Kick-Ass,' moviedom's phenomenon-in-waiting?

April 14, 2010 |  3:33 pm

We rarely get in the business of predicting sensations, but it's hard not to feel that something is in the air with "Kick-Ass." Something bigger, that is, than even than some of the pre-release hype suggests. And not just in the fanboy world, where it's of course already huge.

The Matthew Vaughn-directed movie's initial unveiling at Comic-con -- in which Vaughn and his fellow producers, who financed the film independently, took the unusual step of screening footage before a studio had even bought the film -- gave you a sense that this isn't another of the myriad pictures that pass through the San Diego Convention Center three astride every July.

Of course, Comic-con is Comic-con, and reaction there can be as illustrative of the real world as a Storm Trooper costume ("Avatar" didn't blow away the crowds there, for instance).  But it never hurts to have fan momentum, and "Kick-Ass" has had and continued to build that since last summer, based on innate interest in Mark Millar's original comic book and a a shrewdly abstract campaign by studio Lionsgate. More important, though, the interest now seems to be spreading to a lay audience. At a media and industry showing last week, filmgoers walked out of the theater buzzing, a rare reaction for the normally sedate press-screening crowd.

The film is ostensibly about a nebbishy kid named Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who decides to don a superhero costume and play caped hero despite no obvious powers (imagine Clark Kent putting on a Superman costume, only it does nothing). But that's a bit of a Trojan Horse for the real story, the 11-year-old Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), a kind of gun and martial-arts specialist who, along with her vigilante father Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), provides the real security in town, not to mention the glorious fight scenes, bailing out Kick-Ass on more than a few occasions.

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