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Spring Guide: Kick-Ass, Even Darker than The Dark Knight

Aaron Johnson's secret vigilante

In the exhilarating, darkly subversive new superhero flick Kick-Ass (based on the comic-book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.), 19-year-old English actor Aaron Johnson (Nowhere Boy) stars as Dave Lizewski, a wholly unexceptional NYC teen who's inspired to don a ridiculous suit and mask to fight crime under the titular call-sign. After being stabbed, run over, and generally abused, our non-hero suddenly becomes a YouTube celebrity and teams up with trigger-happy vigilante Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his foul-mouthed, murderous 11-year-old Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). I met with the equally salty Johnson to talk ass-kickings and more.

Did you grow up reading comics? No, not at all. If I say it's not a huge thing in England, I'm sure a bunch of people will go, "That's shit." I grew up outside of London where there wasn't much going for us, so you couldn't really get a hold of comic books.

So what influenced your childhood fantasies? I started acting at six, so that was my escapism. That's why I completely relate to Dave Lizewski. He's a nobody in school and doesn't want to be in anyone's group. He wants to hide behind a mask and become someone else. I got along with anyone, but I never really talked about acting.

Or talked about being a secret vigilante. Actually, I was in trouble quite a lot, in and out of school. I'd been used to working with adults, and it was all about: "What's your opinion? In this scene, what do you feel we should do?" I had a right to have my own say. If you do that in school, it's different. I don't know what it's like in America, but in England, the teacher says this and that's what you do. I don't always necessarily agree, so I'll say my thing. They can't handle it. I was never a cocky bastard, but I'm a creative mind. I don't fucking do academics.

What was most revealing working on a project this huge? It was a big budget, but it was independently funded, not by a studio. Director Matthew Vaughn said it was going to be the most expensive fucking home video. Distributors didn't want to come anywhere close because it was too violent, verging on pedophilia and all sorts of shit.

Are you trying to tell me Kick-Ass is a $70 million indie? Well, yeah. With independent films, you get this whole other feeling that you don't get from studio movies, where people are running it from the fucking offices or wherever. You have to put your all in it together, work as a team, and become a family.

What was it like to film action sequences? Incredible. I mean, I didn't do much of it. I just had to fall on my face and get my ass kicked. I had bruises and shit, but I loved it. We had stunt guys who couldn't get any better. I think most of the money was spent on them—guys who did 300 and Hellboy, Jackie Chan's crew, Jet Li's stunt double, a whole national gymnastics stunt team, and guys who do parkour.

Is America ready for a superhero movie even darker than The Dark Knight? People love Tarantino, don't they? To me, this is Superbad meets Kill Bill. It's giving you what you want. It's Spider-Man with a fucking edge, man.

Speaking of Spidey, your character also lives in New York. What do you dig about the city? I'd love to say something brilliant, but we didn't work in New York for this movie. It was all Toronto, but, fucking hell, I love New York. I've got a lot of friends in Tribeca and the West Village. My fiancée's an artist, so we go to a lot of galleries, and I just saw this Patti Smith gig the other day. There's so much shit going on. It's alive, man. I love the energy in fucking New York.

'KICK-ASS' OPENS APRIL 16 (LIONSGATE). KICKASS-THEMOVIE.COM

Spring Film Picks

Leaves of Grass

April 2

The title of actor-filmmaker Tim Blake Nelson's hayseed comedy-thriller is meant to invoke both Walt Whitman's poetry and the hydroponic marijuana grown and sold by Okie screw-up Edward Norton, but meanings aren't the only things doubled here. Norton is literally twice as fun to watch as he plays his own twin brother, a clean-cut philosophy professor who believes he has escaped his estranged family (including hippie mom Susan Sarandon) until he's unwittingly coerced into coming home by his unscrupulous doppelgänger. Who knew actors could upstage themselves? First Look Studios, in limited release, leavesofgrassmovie.com

 

It Came From Kuchar

April 9–15

Surviving the '60s underground film scene were another pair of twins, Bronx-raised oddballs George and Mike Kuchar, whose prolific oeuvres of inventively ribald 8mm and video experiments (I Was a Teenage Rumpot, The Naked and the Nude) have inspired luminaries like John Waters, Atom Egoyan, and Guy Maddin. Said trio turns up to celebrate the bros in Jennifer M. Kroot's hilarious and strangely moving new doc, a playful intro to Anthology's mini-fest (April 10–11, 16–18) of beloved Kuchar favorites, home movies, and such rarities as the UFO epic Secrets of the Shadow World. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, anthologyfilmarchives.org

 

Jean Renoir

April 9–May 10

France's great humanist auteur died in 1979, leaving behind not just one vibrant masterwork but arguably a few: The '30s alone saw Grand Illusion, La Bête humaine, and his multifaceted class comedy The Rules of the Game, which flopped upon release but has since been canonized. More than 20 films brighten BAM's essential series, including early silents, his underrated Hollywood work of the '40s (This Land Is Mine, The Woman on the Beach), and rare gems like his 1959 Jekyll-and-Hyde adaptation, The Doctor's Horrible Experiment—plus 1926's Nana, here screened with live piano accompaniment. BAM, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, bam.org

 

No One Knows About Persian Cats

April 16

With this shaggily entertaining and rather moving docudrama, Kurdish Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses) surveys his country's hipster music scene—including rappers, metalheads, and prog rockers—which is largely forced to remain underground since Western genres and female singers aren't permitted by the government. Playing fictionalized versions of themselves, real-life tunesters Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad travel around in search of new bandmates and the proper paperwork to perform in Europe. Are you ready to rock, Tehran? That's complicated, sadly, but the soundtrack is still awesome. IFC Films, in limited release, ifcfilms.com

'Northern Exposures'

April 16–May 4

If you are curious (yellow) about how the Swedes do it, check out this ambitious 35-film showcase, subtitled "Social Change and Sexuality in Swedish Cinema, 1913–2010" (Ikea ottomans not provided): 1938's A Woman's Face inspired David O. Selznick to whisk Ingrid Bergman away to Hollywood; 1951's teen romance One Summer of Happiness once shocked for its nude swimming scene; and 2004's multi-thread comedy Four Shades of Brown proves Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson has long been working on that dark streak. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, West 65th Street and Broadway, filmlinc.com

 

Metropolis

May 7–20 

Several attempts have been made to restore Fritz Lang's 1927 magnum opus, a legendary but incomplete work of German expressionism whose visual effects and dystopian architecture inspired Blade Runner and Star Wars, and still impress today. For some eight decades, key scenes had gone missing for disputed reasons—that is, until three whole reels turned up in a small Argentinean museum in 2008. As complete as you'll ever see this silent sci-fi stunner, the all-new restoration finally reveals that the curvy Maschinenmensch is really a dude! (Just kidding.) Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org

Survival of the Dead

May 21

Loosely spun off from Diary of the Dead, horror-meister George A. Romero's sixth riff on the zombie post-apocalypse doesn't satirize his sociopolitical frustrations as in flesh-muncher movies past, but who cares when we're having such sick, giddy fun? Renegade soldiers escape the undead masses by venturing to a tiny island off the coast of Delaware, inadvertently perching themselves between two Irish clans warring over what to do with the "deadheads." If the invasion ever happens for real, find Romero—he knows a thousand ways to kill a ghoul. Magnolia Pictures, in limited release, magpictures.com

Micmacs

May 28

As whimsical and wonderful as Amélie, French fabulist Jean-Pierre Jeunet's gently surreal return to cinema (after, literally, A Very Long Engagement) channels Buster Keaton, Mission: Impossible, The Big Sleep, and Tex Avery cartoons. An adult orphan (Dany Boon) with a bullet lodged in his noggin joins a makeshift family of junkyard eccentrics to take sweet comic revenge on two weapons manufacturers: the one who made his slug, and another whose landmines killed his pop. Clever wordplay meets magic realism, while human cannonballs and contortionists ice the cake. Sony Pictures Classics, in limited release, sonyclassics.com

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