by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Invisible (2007)

Needlessly tragic and scripted with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, there are a lot of reasons to dislike this movie, but enough good things going on to keep you from turning it off completely. If nothing else, this trippy tale of a kid's struggle to solve his own murder is at least original in both concept and execution, but for the most part it just gets used as a venue to vent gigantic gobs of teen angst. You've got your standard issue absentee parents, faux friends with confused alliances, and a soundtrack piled high with “no one understands me” alterna-rock. And all the voyeuristic wanderings where we see everyone's reaction to our protagonist's death makes it come off like a charmless retelling of It's A Wonderful Life. Still, the story is complex enough to not be dull and even includes an unexpected twist or two, and the scenery is wonderful in a wet and cloudy sort of way. One's enjoyment here probably depends on how sturdy your gag reflex is for typical adolescent melancholy. Neat story idea aside, what's here isn't much of anything special, but not particularly bad either.

5 out of 10.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Talk to Me (2007)

Occasionally touching, extremely well acted, but sadly lacking in the second hour, Talk to Me is a film at odds with itself. For the first half, watching Don Cheadle's take on 1960s Washington D.C. disc jockey Petey Greene is a master class in character acting. He utterly loses himself in the role, creating a caustic prophet for the black community during times of exceptional strife. You understand his pathos and though he can be tough to like, Cheadle's performance is flawlessly realized. Then the second half focuses on his manager Dewey Hughes, played with equal clarity by Serenity star Chiwetel Ejiofor. The problem is that while Petey Greene is a firebrand of controversy and hard living, Dewey Hughes comes off as a man of tempered ambition and moderation. While the oil-and-water chemistry and brotherly love between the two is readily apparent, when put on their own Hughes is by far the less interesting. This renders the film a mixed bag. While it portrays its era with fantastic skill and craft, it just can't overcome that the more involving story all but walks out halfway through the movie.

7 out of 10.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Juno (2007)

Human beings simply aren't this rational, but isn't the reason we go to the movies to see impossible things? Sure, it's fraught with the usual series of moral conundrums that would and should plague any film about teen pregnancy. But it's the totally level-headed perspective screenwriter Diablo Cody brings to bear that makes this one of the freshest, most charming, and charismatic movies of 2007. Credit also has to go to the perfect performance of Ellen Page as Juno; she takes the script's improbably earnest title character and turns her into a sensitive, beguiling, intelligent, and believable persona. Everything in this film is just marvelous, from the lighthearted yet honest way everyone deals with one another, the superb pacing that keeps you smiling sweetly from one moment to the next, down to the bizarrely enchanting soundtrack. It's funny, smart, original, and absolutely overflowing with insight. Impossibly sensible cast aside, it's one of the best ways out there to get the warm-fuzzies.

9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007)

After Paul W.S. Anderson’s failed attempt at bringing two of sci-fi’s most respected franchises together in the first Alien vs Predator, the mythology and prestige associated with both storylines was in ruins. Things fare much better this time out, and even though it continues the narrative from the previous film it manages to not only make up for the sins of its father, but actually repairs the damage done to both franchises’ respective sagas. Sure, it’s still just barely better a B-movie (thanks only to its pedigree), but the film is a fun little creature feature with enough of a brain not to offend its audience and fan base, and a body count so utterly ruthless it almost comes off as an apology for the previous film’s PG-13 rating. That said, the acting ranges from so-so to just plain bad, the editing is a bit spastic, and the cinematography is so dark in places you won’t be able to tell which horrible beast you’re looking at. But it’s still an improvement over the previous chapter. Perhaps it takes a lot of compromise to gladly accept such a low-brow entry into the company of these revered films, but if nothing else it’s nice to see these heavyweights on screen and not leave the theater angry. In short: it doesn’t suck.

6 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Before The Empire Strikes Back had a chance to solidify the series' place in cinema history, this catastrophe happened. There simply are not words for how absolutely awful this made-for-TV cash-in is and remains. That it continues to exist thanks to someone's 1978 VCR and the eventual advent of web-based video is nigh on an epic travesty, and under no circumstances should any loved one or trusted friend be made to watch any or all of it. Honestly it should come with the kind of warnings reserved for narcotics and a card with a suicide hot-line's number on it. That it has names like Art Carney and Bea Arthur attached to it just adds to the overall embarrassment of seeing a beloved classic turned into a low-budget musical. No amount of damage supposedly done by the Special Editions and the Prequel Trilogy can ever match the sheer abuse this two hour turd visits upon this universe. Star Wars creator and geek paragon George Lucas once said that if he had enough time and a hammer he would destroy every copy of the bloody thing. After having seen it myself, Mr. Lucas I am willing to buy you that hammer.

None out of 10.

With Rifftrax:
With that out of the way, fans of the now defunct Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV show and movie would actually be doing themselves a favor by heading over to and downloading the alternate audio track. Rifftrax are simple mp3 files that you play alongside a given movie, where three or more folks make snide comments basically tear the film a new one. In the case of The Star Wars Holiday Special, the Riff turns an intergalactic meltdown into two of the funniest hours you could reasonably ask for. Hosts Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett manage to pull together an absurdly hilarious miracle in turning the movie's dialogue (or lack thereof) against itself. While it certainly can't rescue an established cataclysm, it drags this Holiday Hindenburg up enough to make it something you won't bring up in therapy later.

With Rifftrax: 1 out of 10. (by the way, the version of the SWHS you'll want to use for this runs about 1 hour, 57 minutes or so, and still has the vintage commercials in it)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Charming might be the best adjective to describe this movie, and honestly it's a wonderful and wonderfully dirty little political drama through and through. As usual, Tom Hanks does a great job playing a likable bastard while Julia Roberts does her duty as a feminine force to be reckoned with, but it's Phillip Seymor Hoffman who winds up stealing every scene he's in as an exceptionally gruff and foulmouthed CIA agent helping the leads. The slow end to the covert side of the Cold War is depicted with a fantastic sense of whimsy mixed with hard-forged alliances that, while lacking punch in any visceral sense both emotionally and physically (it's a war movie fought from behind a desk), still manages to be satisfying. With great characters, and a heaping dose of Texas pragmatism, this light-hearted look at the business of war remains both relevant and fun on its own terms.

8 out of 10.

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Whatever his visual triumphs, director Tim Burton seems to have a lot of trouble pulling off a truly great film. He certainly has made a large number of very good films (and a decent pile of so-so ones), but for so prolific and iconic an auteur it's odd that his great movies only number three or four. Sweeny Todd falls into the very good, almost great side of things, mostly on the strength of the quirky musical it's based on, and Burton's strengths as a presenter of absurdly gothic delights. It is perhaps the best produced musical about murder-and-cannibalism to date, and it certainly has its ducks in a row as far as eye candy goes. But as much fun as listening to Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter sing about how delicious people might be, one wonders what might have been in the hands of more capable singers. The casting is competent (and in the case of Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen, inspired) but rarely excels largely due to Depp's almost complete lack of singing experience. He gets the job done much better than most would in his position, but the inexperience is still audible. That said, the music is witty and sharp (no pun intended), the sets and costumes fantastic, and the gore flows like thick, chunky water. It has enough going on to deem it a must-see for fans of both Burton and blood-soaked musicals, but lacks the final spark to make it a gruesome slice of brilliance.

8 out of 10.

Friday, December 21, 2007

National Treasure (2004)

Either enjoyably stupid, or cleverly harmless, this film fails to really deliver the goods but winds up being a great two-hour diversion. Basically it tries to simultaneously Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones American history, while tossing in a few fun chase scenes and some preposterous plot twists to lead to some semi-important revelation, all the while spouting probably-true bits of obscure Americana. It's cheerfully brainless fluff, funny without being offensive, surprisingly family friendly, and almost immediately forgettable. All that's left behind as the credits roll is a pleasantly pink mist that tells you that you've enjoyed the film, but for no reason you can discern. You could spend your time on much worse.

7 out of 10.

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007)

The first film wasn't much more than a forgettably fun time-waster, and to its credit so is the sequel. It's the same Indiana Jones meets Da Vinci Code meets American “history” formula that made the first a good chuckle, except this time with a much bigger budget. Honestly there isn't much more to the movie than that. The exact same criticisms apply to this film that did to the first—it's funny without being offensive, surprisingly family friendly, and pleasantly inconsequential. It is perhaps a bit more patriotic than the first, but nothing here is really out of character. It should be noted that the central mystery and treasure hunt is a lot more elaborate and interesting this go around, though to balance that out the characters are a bit more bland. This remains a movie about the hunt, the clues, and the peculiar situations everyone constantly finds themselves in, and just like its predecessor there are far worse ways out there to spend your time.

7 out of 10.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stardust (2007)

Patience is a virtue, or so they say. For those quick to judge, Stardust will come off as derivative, silly fantasy fluff with no hope of rescue. For those of you willing to endure an entire hour of world-building and meandering exposition, you will be handsomely rewarded. If you let this film work through the kinks, the second half is a spectacular success—imaginative, breathlessly charismatic, with a giddy kind of heart-warming romanticism that is never condescending. It's all bundled together with some competent, though intentionally cartoonish special effects, a morbid yet friendly sense of humor and some delightfully fun swashbuckling action sequences. All of this delivered by a ridiculous number of big names, including Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ruperet Everett, Peter O'Toole, with Robert De Niro as you've quite literally never seen him before, and fantasy mainstay Ian McKellen as narrator. If you have any love of goodhearted, fun-for-fun's-sake filmmaking, you owe it to yourself to see this. Overly-long first hour notwithstanding, I would go so far as to say that this is the most enjoyable, charming, pure entertainment bit of light fantasy cinema produced since The Princess Bride. It fights for and earns every bit of its wonder and admiration.

9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006 Ireland, 2007 USA)

The ridiculously protracted occupation and war(s) between the British and it's neighboring states, in this case Ireland, is barely taught in American schools, so I hope I can be forgiven for going into this movie improperly armed to judge it on historical grounds. What's here is a sometimes-stirring, always interesting, but strangely distant look at the Irish Republican Army's struggle to win Ireland some level of independence in 1920. Cillian Murphy (the guy from 28 Days Later, and Scarecrow in Batman Begins) does a decent job creating an idealistic, sympathetic guerrilla fighter, and the rest of the cast each do well in their parts. But while the story itself is fascinating in its scope and gives equal time to internal politics as much as battle tactics, it lacks a certain something to really draw in the audience. It seems to assume intimate knowledge and emotional sympathy with the struggle, rather than bringing the unaware into the fold. That said, it's still a well-made movie worth watching. If you're up to date on your Irish history, feel free to add a point onto my judgment.

7 out of 10.

Note: I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but the Irish accents and interspersed Gaelic were so thick I had to watch this with subtitles on. Just putting that out there.

Wild Hogs (2007)

More or less, this is pretty much just the middle ground between National Lampoon's Vacation and Easy Rider. A pile of men each going through a mid-life crisis use a cross-country motorcycle trip as an excuse to reclaim their younger selves, and along the way male bonding and amusing mischief occurs. It's a tried and true template, and this film never deviates from the formula, painting broad, crowd-pleasing gags using familiar faces and a few cameos. It stagnates a bit in the latter half when it suddenly remembers that most stories need conflict to drive them forward, but even what happens here causes a few grins and smiles. It's never anywhere near as iconic or hilarious as either of its most obvious influences, but on its own terms it's a passable bit of leather-clad comedy.

6 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)

From the director who brought us the second Garfield movie comes a movie adaptation of a cartoon show whose only redeeming quality is the innovation of taking Christmas carols and bumping them up two octaves. Wonderful. I question the wisdom of adapting an 80s toon that, at this point, is at least a generation removed from the audience this film is targeting. And what a train wreck it is! Sketchy CG chipmunks with high-pitched voices terrorize and warm the heart of a clearly-desperate-for-a-paycheck Jason Lee while “wacky” and “hilarious” “hijinks” ensue. There isn't a single moment when this cinematic catastrophe is either amusing or worthwhile. It's all a calculated attempt to repackage pop songs and sell albums, which is ironic since the movie is about fighting against that exact thing. I'll give that it may entertain small children, but the poor parents who will be escorting the only audience that could appreciate this turd will be lucky to make it fifteen minutes in before wondering if their time might be better spent getting a head start on their taxes.

2 out of 10.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I Am Legend (2007)

Great performances can come from just about anywhere, in any film. I Am Legend, I expect, didn't aspire to be much more than a mega-budget December release, eager to cash in on the crowds as many of them begin their holiday vacations. It has a so-so script that's big on set pieces but light on breadth, top notch effects (well, at least the deserted New York is top notch; some of the other effects don't fair so well), and a big name to headline it. And then Will Smith makes it magic. In the guise of a post-apocalyptic thriller, Smith's take on the day-to-day desolation and mania that comes along with longterm isolation is riveting, and for the most part it elevates this film from a generic seat-filler to a tightly-wound, often somber character piece. The film as a whole benefits from it, whether it's the exceptionally creepy darkness scenes or the quiet moments Smith shares with his dog. While in the final analysis, this movie lacks the depth and wide-ranging appeal to push this into must-see territory (not to mention that it has almost nothing to do with the book it's supposedly based on), what's here is a fantastic little genre pic, effortlessly carried on the shoulders of its star.

8 out of 10.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

Also known as Un long dimanche de fiançailles.
My good friend and sometimes co-conspirator, alias Phineas Gopher, recently took it upon himself to give me an education in French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, as the only films of his that I had seen at the time were Alien Resurrection, which was awful, and Delicatessen, which was difficult to watch in a high-school classroom. It's a good thing, too, as his films have a color and life and style to them that is unlike anything else in cinema. His films are far from perfect, but they excel at simply being themselves. Rightly (satirically) described as “Amelie 2: Amelie Goes to War”, this film is a sweeping, massive, absolutely epic love story set amidst trench warfare and post-conflict investigation in and after World War One. Audrey Tautou once again headlines the cast, and once again she proves exceptionally watchable, putting in a performance both charming and tragically optimistic. Meanwhile the sets and visuals are beautifully rendered and shot in that uniquely French kind of artistry that makes it both immediately relatable and disarmingly abstract. The plot doesn't quite fare so well, however. Though the pace and thrust of the story are riveting, the sequence of events—of who died, who should have died, who was murdered, and who was simply killed in battle—becomes almost impossibly complicated. However, while the confusion draws away from the narrative satisfaction of this film, it dulls none of its considerable emotional impact. It's a difficult film to follow at times, but the sweep and scope of this romance is exceptional.

8 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Shotgun Stories (2007)

Having seen it firsthand, I can tell you there are few things like a deep south vendetta. In this film we have a homespun tale of old hatred drawn out with a sense of purpose and place uncommon in experienced directors, let alone first timers. Writer/Director Jeff Nichols has done an admiral job of designing a fascinating character study drama of familial hatred set in the tranquil nothingness of the US delta. The result is a patient bit of stoic cinema that is honest, meditative, and poetically tragic. Each performance is crafted with a very suitable kind of subtlety and nuance, especially Michael Shannon as the almost anti-heroic Son. If it has any faults, they have to do with how well it matched its subject matter. Rural Arkansas is an uneventful area by nature, and so the movie matches its snail's pace. Likewise some of the characters, while internally consistent, are difficult to like or relate to. But on the whole, this film is a surprisingly honest look at the American South, and a sound bit of tempered, skillful filmmaking.

8 out of 10.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Futurama: Bender's Big Score (2007)

When I finally came around to actually liking this series it was about four episodes from being canceled. Since then, I've become a pretty loyal follower of this sci-fi satire thanks to reruns on [adult swim], and while I can say that this isn't their finest hour (snu-snu!), this little piece of straight-to-DVD cinema has more than enough warm-fuzzies to be labeled a triumphant return. Essentially it's ninety minutes of new material wrapped around copious amounts of TV-friendly nudity and staggering piles of fan service, gleefully shoved into a jumbo-sized, microwavable tray of reused plot devices and familiar faces. It's certainly not perfect—if you were never particular toward the show this won't change your mind, and the way that this is four to-be-aired new episodes of the program crammed back-to-back does make it feel more than a little drawn out. Still, it's just nice to have this world back, and speaking as a fan I loved how just about every side character from the series made an appearance, from Al Gore (voiced by Al Gore), to Hedonism-bot, to Zapp Brannigan. While it may not be much beyond what was winning Emmys on Fox years ago, if you've ever had any love of the series then there's a great chance the year 3007 can still make you laugh.

7 out of 10.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ratatouille (2007)

It becomes obvious, once you break down what it's about, why this was almost the least profitable Pixar film released to date. Fine dining in a Paris kitchen that has a rat as the chef isn't the the most marketable concept for a kid's flick. Rats aren't exactly cute and cuddly, and fine cuisine isn't something that an 8-year-old is typically interested in. But who cares? This is superb filmmaking, and another example of why director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) is considered among the most talented artists working in animation today. While it contains little of the big budget adventure styling of previous Pixar efforts, the heart and story shine bright. The focus is intimate without being pretentious, and the humor is imaginative and intelligent but never in bad taste (beyond rats eating garbage, at least). It still has a few moments of typical kid's film silliness, though even here they had the good sense not to overdo it. Left field subject matter aside, as a smart movie that all ages can enjoy it will simply make you smile from start to finish.

9 out of 10.

Paprika (2006)

Peculiar, flawed, engrossing, confusing, beautiful, deep, strangely soothing, unique and familiar are all adjectives that could describe this weird little gem. On the surface, it's not much more than a mixed soup consisting of bits of The Cell, a heaping helping of Ghost in the Shell, and just a tiny smidge of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Being a crime-drama centering on the convergence of dreams and schizophrenia will cause those kinds of justified comparisons. But it's in how the borrowed details of these narratives are arranged and presented that makes this film so uncommon. Since this is an animated film, the quality of effects and the restrictions of reality are nonexistent, and so the filmmakers go nuts trying to depict the crazy non-sequitur logic of subjective reality. On the whole, the segments that bend perception of what's real and what's imaginary are stunning, and the way that the internal logic of dreams is depicted is largely spot on. Where the film finds fault is in the utterly baffling way its story unfolds. If you pay enough attention to every single tiny, minute detail you will be able to figure out most of what actually happens, but even then some bits remain in the dark. As well, some of the characters' relationships and choices are either poorly explained or just never quite palatable. Regardless, the conclusion still brings a satisfactory close to most of the plot. As a movie that runs on the logic of non-logic, and as a film that juggles its familiar elements in a novel way, it's a wonderfully eccentric approach to disorientation.

7 out of 10.

Note: For the sake of all that's holy, watch this movie in its native Japanese. The English dub is terrible. Also, for anyone thinking of watching this, you might want to know that anaphylaxis is an "exaggerated allergic reaction to a foreign protein resulting from previous exposure to it."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Reno 911: Miami (2007)

The usual rules apply here: if you didn't like the Reno 911 TV show, you won't like the movie. However, if you've never heard of Reno 911 then keep listening. While it isn't much more than what's been on Comedy Central for the past few years, this sordid spoof of the show Cops still has enough bite and enough offensive gall to make its R-rated patrol worthwhile. It's often quite clever, consistently hilarious, and it has an off-the-cuff spontaneity that keeps the laughs coming in unexpected ways. This is all thanks to a very talented cast of miscreants who, in the making of both the show and the film, write up the skeleton of a script along with a few key gags then almost completely improvise each scene on set. At a trim 83 minutes, the movie features some of their best skits yet and by far their most raunchy gags ever, neatly wrapped around an appropriately disposable plot. Beyond that there isn't much to see here, and while the jokes are great while they last they, along with the film itself, are mostly forgettable. Still, whether you've seen the show or not, there's a lot to like and a lot to laugh at here.

7 out of 10.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Golden Compass (2007)

Swing and a miss! When New Line Cinema bet the house on Peter Jackson's interpretation of Lord of the Rings, the result was an unquestioned masterstroke. Here, New Line is at it again with a less beloved, far more complicated tale of alternate universes and the churches that try to control them. The result is a mish-mash of uneven film making, incomplete exposition, and confusing ideals. Sure, the effects are spectacular, and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards has more acting chops than most Oscar winners (and she's 13 and this is only her first movie!), but it's tough to love the good in the movie when you can't understand what's going on. The concepts that run the fiction here are labyrinthine and far-reaching, but they're rarely given a good moment or two to properly sink in, and since the entire story is built on these imaginative ideas a lot of the drama suffers. It really is a shame because there is a good story being maimed here. If the movie had been given enough wiggle room to set the world and the story properly, New Line's gamble might have paid off. As it stands, for every triumph the film has, there are sparks of confusion and frustration to match.

5 out of 10.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Warriors (1979)

Roots are a funny thing sometimes. Everything has to come from something, sure, but some things just aren't indicative of what came before. Case in point: The Warriors. I'm sure that this was seen as a morally reprehensible, edgy, and hip movie back in 1979. Today, it merely looks back to a simpler time when we were naive enough to think gang violence took place between roving bands of themed tough guys using themed weapons in themed [parks?] locations; a time before every gang member was equipped with a red or blue bandanna and a Glock 9. What was edgy before, now simply comes off as silly, dull, irrelevant, and probably best enjoyed in the company of drunk friends. That isn't to say that it's a bad example of youth-targeted film making of its era. The characters are at least consistent, the world's internal logic is sound, and the story moves with predictable but interesting motion. By today's standards, it's a cheesy bit of over-serious fluff, awful music, and unintentional laughs. This film's many period triumphs have simply been washed out by the craft's natural evolution. Still, it has an endearing, remember-when quality that will tickle the nostalgia bone for some audiences. It's a relic, sure, but an amusing one.

6 out of 10.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (on DVD!) (2007)

If you've ever seen the Aqua Teen Hunger Force television show on [adult swim], then there's really no reason for you to read this review. You will already know what it's like and whether or not it's your cup of tea. For the uninitiated, ATHF is a quasi-sitcom about a box of fries, a milkshake, and a lump of beef living together and fighting off leprechauns, dragons, aliens, sentient mold, demons, cursed club sandwiches, robots, their loathsome neighbor Carl, and each other. Weird doesn't begin to describe it. Neither does coherent, but that's one of its charms. It's foulmouthed, nonsensical and deeply niche stuff, but if you're tuned to the kind of oddities it offers it can be quite funny. The film pretty much follows suit, offering up ninety minutes straight of non-sequitur humor and the series' signature heroes and villains. While it goes a long way toward resolving some of the stranger questions viewers probably posed with regards to the show itself, the movie is so full of in-jokes to the series that most first-timers and even casual fans will likely be lost. Similarly, the breakneck pace of the program is lost with the expanded time frame, leading to long segments where little of anything worthwhile occurs. Aqua Teen is clearly aimed at the die hard fans of the series and while there is certainly the chance that newcomers will get a good chuckle out of its unique brand of silliness, this film never aspires to be anything more than what's been on TV for years.

5 out of 10.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

Also known as Les Triplettes de Belleville.
As enchantingly clever as it is impenetrably obscure, this is the kind of rare movie that can create both wonder and confusion in a single effortless breath. Strictly as a movie, it's difficult to describe even at its most basic elements. In a way, it's kind of a Pink Panther cartoon on some toe-tapping steroids, but there's a kind of mime-inspired craft at work here that's truly unlike anything else. The visual styles in play are a combination of 1940s pop art and comic book sketches that really jump off the screen and bring everything to life. The animation is just wonderful from start to finish. There's almost no dialogue—I counted about a dozen sentences total, almost all in French and not a one relevant to the story—yet still a full tale is told with some wonderful wit, peculiar twists, and very enjoyable characters including a humorously overweight dog with more expression and character than some entire movies. What sound is used is largely ambient, though peppered throughout the film are a few outstanding music numbers done in a jitterbug jazz style. Even with as much praise as I've heaped on the film, however, I cannot recommend the movie to everybody. The absolutely strange way in which the yarn is woven will very likely prove very slow and dull or confusing to some, and there's a subversive and viciously dark subtext throughout the entire production. Still, if you find pleasure in a bit of light bewilderment, solid if sparse tunes, and great art, you won't find many better ways to tweak your noggin than this.

8 out of 10.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Enchanted (2007)

Someone must have slipped something into my burrito this evening. As much a cynic as I am, as awful as the promotion of this movie was, and as contrite the plot devices throughout the film are, Enchanted still managed to be pure magic. How can this be? It starts by not sugar-coating the real world side of things. The vision of New York is certainly edited for a PG rating, but what's shown is pretty much as-is, and is sometimes quite brave for a family film. The satirically savvy script, while fairly predictable all the way through, still manages to throw a few smart curve balls while keeping the characters in tight focus. The gags never overpower the story, which is always a good thing. Likewise, the cast is solid from top to bottom. But I think it all winds down to Amy Adams as the ridiculously naive, eternally perky, and stunningly earnest Giselle. The entire movie rests on her performance, and Adams throws herself against it with a level of bravery and unabashed gusto not seen since Johnny Depp first put on a pirate's hat. There's really no reason why a film about cartoon contrivance running headlong into real world weariness should have been anything but another forgettable piece of family film fluff. Somehow Adams and crew managed the hat trick and put out one of the best Disney films in a decade. Happily ever after? You bet!

9 out of 10.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Country for Old Men (2007)

The thing about a Coen Brothers movie is that they're almost always totally unpredictable. Dark comedy is on display one minute, the next it turns into a horror/thriller with all the fixings. They're masters of their confused craft, but biting into one of their flicks can be like taking a leap of faith. Here we have what can best be described as archetypal, classic Coen. It's a darkly funny, violent, perfectly suspenseful, and flawlessly cast tale of a man on the run from a very eccentric hitman. It's a thriller with all the fat trimmed and while the end result is more than a little quiet, this is a roundly excellent movie. It's finely tuned and wonderfully paced, while maintaining an excellent focus on its characters and settings. About the only thing I have to say against it is that the second half doesn't quite benefit from the stripped down style as well as the first, but even that's only half-hearted criticism. The Coen Brothers have put on a great show, and further proved that they're simply among the best in the business.

9 out of 10.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Amelie (2001)

Also known as Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain.
Curiously eccentric and irresistibly French, this is the kind of movie best enjoyed with a lover to share the joy and a bottle of wine to dull the cynicism. At points beautifully staged, utterly charming, and impenetrably goofy, this treat of a film leaves almost no real lasting impression aside from perky optimism and a sugar rush. It's like chocolate; it's tempting smell and delicious flavor only lasts till you swallow, and then like a wilting flower it's gone. Everything I can think of to say negative about the movie is simply countered with a firm “but it was cute!” counterattack. The structure of the film is flimsy, the characters are sometimes inconsistent, and why is it that everyone has sex before the first date (if it's a French thing I might need a change of address form)? The special effects were pretty nifty and went a long way toward telling certain moods, and I love the red-wine-in-a-green-bottle color scheme. And Audrey Tautou is deliriously adorable throughout. But really, it isn't the kind of movie that could stand up to serious criticism; it just tastes good and makes you smile. That's really all that matters.

7 out of 10.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Mist (2007)

Note: Since I deem myself incapable of being objective with regards to this movie, I have asked my regular guest contributor, Phineas Gopher, to write up a more balanced review of the film to follow mine.

a biased fanboy's review:
Had it not been for the short story upon which this movie was based, I would never have started reading. The story was the first ever in text that pulled me in to a point where I realized that words on a page had power. So there is no possible way I can review this movie objectively—reading it was a seminal moment in my development. What I can do is review it on its quality as an adaptation, and as a fan of the novella. Well it doesn't disappoint, but then again I went in already sold on its wares. For almost 120 minutes, this is as close to what was in the short story as could possibly be depicted, minus an unnecessary sex scene. It is slavishly loyal to its source, to interesting effect. The language is intact, the violence is nearly identical, people die in the right order and in exactly the same way they die in the book, and best of all the things that are left vague and fuzzy in the story remain so. Your imagination gets to run wild in the white in all the ways it needs to. Even the little bits that go off the page work, including the best homage to Aliens since Aliens. It's more unnerving than directly frightening, and has a lot more to say about human nature than was originally there, but it all serves to keep what's on screen intact. In the closing few minutes, it jumps off the source a little more, but even the new material here feels like what would have been written. Except the last sixty seconds, which pretty much just pisses all over everything. It's not that I have a problem with the style of ending it was going for, just that what had been built as a horrific journey for our hero ends on such a sour note. I won't spoil it of course (this is Zero Spoilers, after all) but it will leave you a bit miffed. So what does an unswerving fanboy rate a movie that is a deeply satisfying interpretation of a personal classic for 119 minutes, but absolutely awful for one?

8 out of 10.

Note: If it's available to you, grab the Black & White cut from the 2nd disc of the DVD release. It lets the movie be what it is--a throwback--without any problems whatsoever suspending disbelief. Most everything is made better by the lack of color; the ending is more believable, the special effects have some of their flaws glossed over, the creepy scenes are creepier, and the gore is less graphic while somehow being more disturbing. Even the acting is magically made better! For the black and white cut, I'd happily slop on another point. B&W cut = 9.

a more balanced review by Phineas Gopher:
First off, when a billowing white cloud of smoke rolls into town and covers everything in sight, what do you call that? I think the answer worth most points on Family Feud would be fog. I guess that name was taken. Stupid John Carpenter. Anyway, titular disputes aside, The Mist is a solid genre offering that has less gore, yet bigger cajones, than many of its horror-film peers. Drawing from Greek tragedy, H.P. Lovecraft, and oh yeah, the Stephen King story of the same name, it examines how people would react to being trapped by a completely unexplainable catastrophe. With jabs at the government, religion, and perhaps humanity in general, it is not a happy picture. But it is an emotional one, a cathartic one, and one that demands to be seen in theaters. The only glaring flaws are the special effects looked half-finished (or more likely, half-funded) in places... good enough to get you there but no cuddle afterward. Also, one of the main characters (the "villain" if there is one) is over-the-top in a way that stretches credibility. Sure, she had the theater audience voicing their hatred audibly throughout the film, but her vulgarity clashes with her piety in a way that is very black-and-white, amidst characters that are otherwise subtle and realistic. Despite this, The Mist is a well-crafted little nightmare of a film.

7 out of 10.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hitman (2007)

Y'know, I actually kinda liked this movie, though I will be the absolute last to call it anything resembling good. Basically it's enjoyable crap, and if you go in with the expectation that it's not much more than a eurotrash explodathon featuring dozens of bald men and a gleefully miscast Timothy Olyphant as our heroic, gun-toting invincible badass, I would say there's a decent chance you'll feel you've gotten your money's worth. Otherwise, there isn't a lot to look at here. It tries its hardest to work a Bourne Identity angle but utterly fails in consistently amusing ways, and while there are some neat-o action sequences they're largely edited into undecipherable mash. So no, this is not a good movie. But if you're looking for something to zonk out in front of, or maybe in need of a flick to beat to death with a few drunk buddies, this is a perfectly decent way to blow a few bucks.

6 out of 10.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sicko (2007)

Chances are you already have an opinion on Michael Moore. Personally, I miss the happy-go-lucky, less agenda driven satirical truths of his TV Nation days, and while I find many points and politics in his presentations and documentaries that I agree with, more often than not the frequently dishonest methods he uses behind the scenes simply turn me off. With that out of the way, Sicko might be the finest piece of work Moore has done since the early 90s. Gone are the mixed messages of Bowling for Columbine and the blunt force trauma smear campaign of Fahrenheit 9/11. Here it's replaced with smooth and very entertaining storytelling that, while certainly slanted to a specific world view and advocating a specific issue (in this case, government run health care), is nevertheless an interesting examination into an argument that is sure to piss you off in a productive way. And it's not as politically charged as one would guess, either. He throws darts at both sides of the aisle; in the middle of taking down one right-winger after another, he saves the hardest hit for Hillary Clinton! But really it's all about the human stories in all of this, and whether fabricated or not (the lack of outrage in this department makes me side with “true”), what's here is effective and at times heartbreaking. Even his big stunt at the end comes off as a far more involving and soulful than expected, though still too saccharine. If you have an opinion on Moore, you already know if you're going to see this film or not. But for those of you who are neutral, or who just miss what he used to do before he became a his own punchline, Sicko may just surprise you, and may make you ask some good questions.

9 out of 10.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Beowulf (2007)

Once I got over this not being an adaptation of the classic poem, but rather an imagined “real” story that would inspire the classic bit of lit, enjoying this film became much easier. Otherwise, it was pretty much what you'd expect it to be: an ultra-macho guy fantasy tale of larger than life heroes and the demons that torment them. Hey, it worked for 300. What sets it apart are it's literary origins, and that it's an animated CG film. While it maintains a loose grip on it's source, Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery's script does a decent job of presenting a well fleshed out version of the tale. It has all the major plot points, characters, and items in one form or another. As to the animation and acting, it's a mixed bag. Trying to maintain a high level of realistic visual fidelity lands the entire movie deep in the uncanny valley, where things look close enough to real to feel distractingly fake. It's a step forward for the film making style, but still very far from perfect. The actors all did motion-capture to give their performances nuance and detail, but as good as Anthony Hopkins' Hrothgar, Ray Winstone's Beowulf, and especially the very nude Angelina Jolie look in the film, some characters just look wrong, most notably Robin Wright Penn's Queen Wealthow. Meanwhile the action and sets all look great, particularly the massive finale, which might be the best action scene of the year. The end result of all this is a film that's difficult to define, but extremely interesting to look at. It's not the poem it's based on, and the animation is both disturbing and beautiful at the same time, but as a whole there's enough good here to warrant the price of admission.

7 out of 10.

Note: If you can catch the film in 3D, do so. While it contains more than a few instances of obvious 3D silliness (swords and arrows flying at the audience, foreground fire and snow, etc), the film's finale is made all the more spectacular by seeing the action swoop all around the audience.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Into the Wild (2007)

Alternating between being an purposeful and thought provoking meditation on society's many ills, and being agenda driven snobbish tripe, this is a movie that's extremely difficult to love, but easy to admire. It's clear that a lot of passion and dedication went into the making of this film, but despite its real-life trappings, much of it comes off as a bit too idealistic. Director Sean Penn paints his scenery and characters in fairly clear black and white: Nature and hippies = Good. Cities and people with jobs = Bad. This is absolutely backed up by the score by Eddie Vedder, with folk tunes about wilderness and the supposed joys of being penniless. There's certainly merit to the thinking, but as it's portrayed here it comes off as too simplistic. On the other hand, Emile Hirsch puts on an amazing performance as the brash, and very real, Christopher McCandless. Likewise, the location scouts did an outstanding job of finding gorgeous locales to set the film in. While the central conceits of the film are a bit too basic, the excellent settings and great acting make this an interesting example of what happens when idealism crashes head-on with reality.

7 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In July (2000)

Also known as Im Juli.
What to make of this strange little road trip flick. It's not perfect by any means, but it still a very enjoyable way to kill 90 minutes. Basically you've got your sort-of Oscar Wilde tangle of misplaced affection, a quasi-cross-continent road trip in which shenanigans ensue, and an almost heartwarming story of looking for love in many of the wrong places. Along the way you see a bit of somewhat nice scenery, and nearly a few lessons in both German and Turkish (Gurkish?). What doesn't work so well is an intentionally, but perhaps overly misleading story, and a generally miscast lead. Maybe it's my dumb-American sensibilities, but the lead male just never looked the part throughout the whole film. At least the acting is decent, if a bit overt. The road trip movie is well past its heyday, but a few gems peek through from time to time. In July is hardly a great film, but it serves very well to show the sweet and fun side of the genre.

7 out of 10.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Also known as El Laberinto del fauno.
Guillermo del Toro said that crafting and directing this movie nearly killed him. Had he died to make this, it still could not have been a better film. Beautiful, thrilling, mysterious, uplifting, dark, haunting, depressing, and exhilarating, Pan's Labyrinth is as close to perfection as it could ever hope to be. At it's heart, it most resembles the original fairy tales, before they were edited for modern consumption, where evil and scary things happen, and the answer is always more involved than a simple moral, and where the endings weren't always wrapped in a neat package. This is an adult fairy tale, crafted with style and brutality, with sympathy and grace, and with the knowledge that sometimes what seems best isn't always what's right. This is the kind of story that sticks with you, that frightens you, and brings back bittersweet memories for the kid in all of us who sees a world of infinite, and sometimes terrifying possibility. You simply cannot ask for a better way to spend two hours.

10 out of 10.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fido (2007)

Ladies and gentlemen, the first Zombie Satire! This is just a great idea done right. Take 1950s industrial enthusiasm, mix in domesticated undead, squeeze in some excellent script work that takes full advantage of a ludicrous concept, and pepper with just a dash of blood and guts. The result is delightfully twisted, frequently hilarious, and even just a little bit touching in a morbid sort of way. The deadpan (no pun intended) humor is spot on, while the acting takes full advantage of the very quirky nature of both the era and the concept, particularly Carrie-Ann Moss as the socially conscious mother and Billy Connolly as titular zom-pet Fido. If anything works against the film, it would be it's generally middle budget trappings. Some big ideas are tossed about but are either poorly realized or not shown at all. Still, that's no reason to bite into this great little flick about a boy's love for his reanimated best friend.

8 out of 10.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Lives of Others (2006)

Also known as Das Leben der Anderen.
Deeply melancholy, darkly methodical, and effortlessly compelling, this slice of German film craft is a beautiful piece of sympathetic cinema. It's got almost all of the earmarks of a good paranoia spy thriller and political commentary, in this case being critical of 1984 East Germany's policy of radically extensive surveillance of its citizens in order to ferret out dissidents. What unfolds is a brutally slow-paced, but remarkably interesting interplay between a government spy and his completely unwitting target. It works extremely well, in a kind of polite One Hour Photo sort of way. While its painstaking pace can make it at times a chore to follow, the end result is stoically touching, satisfying, remarkably topical, and well worth sinking in to.

8 out of 10.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Also known as Diarios de motocicleta.
Che Guevara has become a symbol of rebellion of late, but few people born after his death seem to know who he was. With Motorcycle Diaries, we get a glimpse into the man behind the ever-present t-shirt, and into the boy before the revolution. There's very little of the revolutionary here, merely the true story of Che's trip through South America with his good friend Alberto Grenado. Quiet, contemplative, and filled with character moments, Gael Garcia Bernal's portrayal of Che is both introspective and layered, playing a man who slowly gives up his boyhood to take on his mantle of responsibility, while Rodrigo De la Serna's take on Alberto is an exceptional foil to Che's burgeoning self. While it has almost none of what would make Che Guevara infamous in his final years, what's painted here is easy to interpret as the genesis of all leaders, for better or worse. Che eventually became an enemy and target of the United States, and perhaps that is a more interesting story, but the tale of the boy before the man is just as worthwhile.

9 out of 10.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hero (2002 China, 2004 USA)

Also known as Ying xiong.
Heavily steeped in oriental warrior-philosophy, filled with love triangles and betrayals, and blessed with a visual style of stunning beauty, this is the kind of movie that puts the art back into martial arts. Taking cues from Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece Rashamon, director Yimou Zhang builds this story around telling the same snippets of story over and over again, each time from a different perspective, resulting in a tale of wonderful clarity and color. The acting here is a bit overcooked, but if you've ever watched opera, it comes off in much the same way: broad strokes of emotion meant to fill a canvas with each line, instead of the usual subtle nuance we're used to seeing. What really strikes home with this film, though, is its visual style. Picking a primary color to base each version of the story around makes for an interesting and exceptionally accessible symbolism that gives the audience the chance to sort out the true meaning of each story. It's a brilliant tweak that just makes watching the film much more interesting and attractive. If you're not big on warrior philosophy and foreign films, your mileage may vary. But for everyone else, regardless of whether they consider themselves fans of martial arts epics, Hero is absolutely worth seeing.

9 out of 10.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Casshern (2004 Japan, 2007 USA)

Either it's a soulful meditation on the agony of loss and the state of father-son relationships in the world today, or a live action anime featuring a superhuman facing off against other superhumans and their robotic armies. I really have no idea either way. I will say this, though: damn it's a gorgeous movie! Every frame of this film drips with one kind of artistry or another, and the end result is two continuous hours of scene paintings of incredible fidelity. The action sequences benefit the most from this, though some erratic editing keeps the violence from being immediately understandable. Meanwhile, the plot that guides the imagery is meandering and unfinished. By the conclusion, you're not sure of the kind of logic the narrative was trying to follow, or what exactly it was trying to say. Clearly there's a powerful message in the film, but it's buried under confusing conspiracy plots and typical anime existential melodrama. That being said, there are moments of startling clarity and tender emotion peppered throughout. Maybe some folks will watch this and see something huge and meaningful. Maybe I missed something that kept me from fully enjoying this film. I wish I could see what that is, because what little got through was quite touching.

6 out of 10.

Monday, November 5, 2007

V For Vendetta (2005)

Making a movie about a future version of Guy Fawkes has got to be risky stuff, especially in these paranoid times. Certainly one man's terrorist is another man's folk hero, and Guy Fawkes does have his own holiday in Britain (remember remember the fifth of November), but with the word “terrorist” having become as taboo as the “N” word here in the States, it's difficult to say how a film like this flies in this country. Personally I find it liberating, though too easy to romanticize, admiring a man who's gunpowder plot to blow up Parliament in 1605 is seen as symbolic that an inadequate government will not be tolerated. But how does that adapt to film? How does that translate to a science fiction drama about a terrorist who is fed up with government, and who resolves to galvanize an apathetic populace into taking action? Pretty well actually, as long as you ignore the movie itself and focus instead on the trickle of violently seductive ideas present. In the right hands, this is a dangerous film. As a movie, though, it has some serious issues. Hugo Weaving's performance is almost V for vaudevillian in it's overcooked elocution, while Natalie Portman flounders trying to maintain a British accent. The rest of the story is mostly white noise, but it's punctuated with moments of absolutely staggering power that only the heartless could ignore (the "Autobiography" scene is one of my favorite in all of cinema). These heartstopping moments drive forth an agenda, and it's here that the film finds its footing. Guy Fawkes is a tough person to idolize, but the very visceral way in which he tried to give power back to the people is inspiring in its own way. So too, is this movie: tough to like, but packed with ideas.

7 out of 10.

American Splendor (2003)

Before Sideways finally gave him his due, Paul Giamatti put in one of the most thorough, detailed, interesting, tragic, witty, and most of all thankless performances of his career. He plays Harvey Pekar, a blue collar file clerk, former regular on David Letterman, lovable curmudgeon, and author of the autobiographical comic book American Splendor. Meanwhile, the real Harvey Pekar makes regular appearances and comments throughout. It's not as convoluted as it sounds. It isn't really convoluted at all. What it is is a remarkably earnest, deeply touching story of a storyteller, made all the more authentic by the regular input and appearance of the real people behind the tale. Everything here is spot-on. Pekar's input is poignant and insightful, while Giamatti plays the role with courageous accuracy. The result is a quasi-biography/dramatization that becomes a quintessentially American story of life, loss, and a uniquely begrudging kind of love. It's deep and meaningful, funny and tragic, painful and joyous, and frequently all of those at once.

9 out of 10.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

American Gangster (2007)

Heroin kingpin Frank Lucas, played with stoic gusto by Denzel Washington, is a generous, loving, caring businessman. But he isn't likable. Neither is Russell Crowe's Richie Roberts, the investigator trying to break down Lucas' organization in this Vietnam era true crime drama. Sure, we can respect Lucas' consistent practices when it comes to managing his illegal operation, and understand Roberts' almost sacrificial boy scout mentality, but if you don't like the characters to begin with, what's here to enjoy? In spite of all this, what's here is still a pretty decent film, which is more a testament to a decent script and Ridley Scott's always superb world-building. The twists and turns are well organized and interesting, while 1970s New York and Vietnam are painted in an unflattering, if honest, light. It says a lot for a movie when it's good enough to make you want to like the leads, but you find that you can't. In trying to paint the main characters in a gritty, honest light, they just went too far. If you can get past that, there's some real meat here.

7 out of 10.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

As horrifically sad as this film is, and as great the tragedies in Africa are and remain, the overriding impression I wind up getting from every movie trying to encapsulate these atrocities is of missed opportunity. So here again we have Rwanda 1994 at the eruption of civil war and genocide. Danger surrounds an upscale hotel while the UN turns its back on a massacre, and in the middle is the Schindler-like Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle. It's concerning stuff, but the film very rarely manages to capture the bigger struggle, the desperate strife, and the titanic losses that this or any other similar conflict (and there are plenty) entails. With that out of the way, as a small-scale story of love and of fear it is fairly effective. Cheadle in particular puts on a career-defining show amid a cast of very consistent performances. If it weren't for the fact that this is a mostly true story about a tragically real predicament, the small scale of the story would be fine. Maybe it's because the worst of Africa's troubles are so epic they can't be captured in film, but though it's more effective than most, Hotel Rwanda isn't the galvanizing piece of work it ought to be. It's well made, but sadly not definitive. Crises this big need better.

7 out of 10.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Elizabeth (1998)

Part political thriller, part coming-of-age tale, and part costume drama, this film manages the near insurmountable task of making 16th century British politics interesting, if not absolutely enthralling. Depicting the Lady Elizabeth's ascension to royalty through her early period of rule, the narrative has all the twists, turns, and conspiracies of a mafia movie. Of course, if history somehow is made this fascinating, the natural concern is whether or not it's an accurate portrayal of the period. I am not qualified to say for certain, though given how well it all flows together I would say it should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, as a movie, as entrainment, and probably as a whiff of life during the times it is hard to argue with how deftly it keeps your attention. Nothing here breaks character, and very little is over the top. It cements with a sense of beauty, pageantry and British stoicism that is extremely satisfying. What it may lack in truth, it makes up for in everything else.

9 out of 10.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

While the first Elizabeth was a triumphant telling of the early days of arguably history's greatest woman, this is more like a depiction of her sophomore slump. Oh sure England had some great success during these days but the presence of the Lady herself, at least as it is presented here, is almost incidental. In short, a lot of events happen around her, but rarely if ever to her. In the process, much of the character and deeply personal nature gets left where the first film ended. What's here is mostly pleasant pageantry, regal melodrama, and the occasional bloodbath. It still looks great, it's still very well acted, but it lacks the cleverness and captivating nature of the first, instead settling on being merely interesting. The film is still decent, but after the miracle concoction of the first you can't help but feel a bit let down.

6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

1408 (2007)

They really don't make horror films like this anymore. It's not sadistic, not particularly gory, nobody gets chopped up slowly into little pieces while they gargle their last scream—it's just a good, old fashioned scary picture. It's almost Hitchcockian. The sense of dread and unpredictability that the first half builds is almost balletic, reaching a perfect rolling boil that carries throughout the rest of the film, while the surprisingly thick plot (for a horror movie) has a few exceptional cards to play. It's not quite all good news, however. Samuel L. Jackson's overly insistent hotel manager character feels both under- and mis-used, while the occasional corny wink from John Cusack still manages to sneak in from time to time, and some of the plot's twists are overly elaborate and contrived. But for the most part the movie focuses on the character of the room itself, generating one nerve wracking situation after another to wonderful effect. It may not be the finest horror flick out there, but it's hard to argue when the haunted house scares on offer are this much fun.

8 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Saw 4 (2007)

guest review by Phineas Gopher

The latest in a franchise that's become an October staple, Saw IV has the look and feel of the first three movies, but only three-fourths of the charm. The series is beginning to sag under the weight of a plot that has gone from likably eccentric to distractingly convoluted. Viewers who haven't seen Saws uno, dos, and tres will be lost, and even viewers who have would do well to bring a notepad if they want to keep up with who is who. Too many characters doing too many unbelievable things...hmm, sounds like your typical horror movie sequel. What makes Saw IV distinct is the same thing that made the series stand out in the first place: horrible, horrible deathtraps out of which (somewhat) innocent people must find a way. This isn't a spoiler: most don't. The film is never better than when it is making you ask, arms crossed nervously over your chest, "What would I do in that situation?" Unfortunately, it doesn't do this as often as its predecessors.

6 out of 10.

Gigli (2003)

guest review by Phineas Gopher

Oh, the dangers of putting your real-life romance into a Hollywood movie! Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck weren't universally liked in 2003, but they lost many of the fans they had when they headlined Gigli, a crime/drama/ romance that became the most reviled film of the year. And having sat through it recently this critic can say, it really is godawful. All the sarcasm, babytalk, and playful fighting you've ever loathed between couples you know is even harder to watch between two multi-million-dollar movie stars exuding as much charisma as a dog humping the leg of a dead body. Sorry, less. Gigli contains painfully bad dialogue like the infamous "I'm the bull. You're the cow." line, but has such high production values (and Christopher Walken!) that it manages to be entertaining as an example of Hollywood blissfully unaware of not wearing any pants to work. Plus, now is the perfect time of year to watch it, since it is both an unintentional horror film and a turkey.

1 out of 10.