Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

‘Kick-Ass’ spoiled by seriousness; ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ deserves its Oscar win


When the red band trailer for this movie was released online in late December, it hit the populist pond of docile, naïve, and/or sensitive folks with a cannonball splash. They had no idea what had hit them: This cute, 11-year-old-girl said what? Does she even know what that means? How can these Mephistophelean types represent children in this way?

Last week, “Kick-Ass” had a wide release and, though the movie is a pathetic mish-mash of the worst aspects films like “Superbad,” “Superman” and “Kill Bill,” it hopefully defied the violently purist visions of children to which many parents foolishly still hold on. The film, directed by Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) and starring Nicholas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin’ from “Superbad”), is an action-packed orgy about a teenage boy who tries to become a real life superhero, but finds that there’s a lot more to the pseudo-profession than just kicking ass and taking names.

The violence is certifiably gratuitous: though the fight scenes could use a cue from Yuen Woo-ping (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The Matrix” and “Kill Bill”): and the acting is as young and immature as the actors themselves. An adaptation of a Mark Millar comic book, the biggest pitfall of “Kick-Ass” is that it wanders down the path of self-assured seriousness instead of chiseling some teeth for the rabble-rousing, biting parody it could have been.

If you were expecting some sort of over-the-top critique of postmodern superhero consumerism, I suggest you wait until Quentin Tarantino decides to go at it alone with a pop-culture encyclopedia. If you’re looking for a montage of ensanguined fight scenes championed by some puny, underdog teenagers, however, this movie might be right up your dark ally. Either way, keep in mind that “Kick-Ass” is meant to push buttons, not gracefully and artistically sew them.

“The Secret in Their Eyes”

Laced with melancholic beauty of the kind that inspired Chopin’s Op. 28 preludes, Juan José Campanella’s Oscar-winning film for Best Foreign Language Film, “The Secret in Their Eyes,” explores the haunting memory of the cold case of a 25-year-old who was raped and murdered in the mid-’70s. The film, at once set in the 1974 past and the 1999 present, methodically transports the viewer between these time periods with a grace unparalleled by any Hollywood schematic, yet still manages to maintain an air of mystery likely gathered from Mr. Campanella’s time in the United States directing several episodes of “House” and “Law & Order.”

Fortunately, the insight he gathered from that work eschewed the numbing contrivances upon which those shows are so proudly based. Ricardo Darín: the Argentine equivalent of George Clooney, with a little less pizzazz: leads an excellent cast of national actors that include Soledad Villamil and Guillermo Francella.

Benjamin (Darín), a recently retired criminal court investigator, has decided to take up the laborious hobby of becoming a writer and, in a nostalgic effort to relive part of his career, decides to write a novel based on the aforementioned unresolved rape and murder. He shares his plans with Irene (Villamil), the beautiful judge and former colleague he has secretly loved since they first met, who is hesitant at first to explore the depths of his project.

Clues unfurl slowly, situating Benjamin in the middle of a judicial thriller whose increases in intensity and artistry are in lockstep with one another. The film is a tribute to the excellence of Argentine cinema over the years, and, for that matter, to the Academy’s ability to recognize gems at a distance from their American backyards. I can assure you that if you go through the trouble of finding it, “The Secret in Their Eyes” will reward you in the end.

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