by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

007 Casino Royale (2006)

Start from scratch. Strip away the liscence to kill, the shaken martini and fast cars, and even the double-oh from James Bond, and you get a film about a man struggling with hard lessons on the path to become the world's greatest spy. This new iteration of the classic character isn't afraid of dirty work, and more resembles a thuggish assassin with delusions of style than the suave, invincible macho male fantasy of movies past. The humanizing reboot mostly works, focusing much tighter on characterization than explosions, which in turn causes the few action sequences and tricky situations to carry a heft almost unseen in the series. That said, at points the attempt to portray a more relatable, realistic Bond goes too far, especially in the final act which not only feels like a break from earlier parts of the film, but leaps unexpectedly into an entirely different genre. Despite all this, the wager to pick apart the cinematic icon was a wise one, showing a fresh version of Bond who is flawed and fallible, but more exciting as well.

8 out of 10.

Monday, November 17, 2008

007 Quantum of Solace

A first for the now 22 film strong series: a direct sequel! Picking up within an hour of the conclusion of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace sees the apparent conspiracy from the first widened into a global affair, with key players in all places and Britain's best super-spy cum one man army out to tear it apart. It works almost every bit as well as the previous film, and has the advantage of not spontaneously changing genres in the third act. The focus is different however, preferring to build a larger, credible threat while a guilt- and rage-ridden Bond slowly works through the morass, killing his way to bigger and better leads. The action is remains solid if a bit over the top (though still mercifully shy of the ultra-silliness that much of the series is known for), and the characters stay as compelling as the last film. It's a fine effort all around, continuing the strengths of its predecessor, and while it really doesn't break any new ground it still remains some damn fine entertainment.

8 out of 10.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Batman Begins (2005)

Christopher Nolan's take on the Caped Crusader is worlds apart from the flashy and stylized works of Tim Burton's and Joel Schumacher's earlier Batman movies. In a way, it can be seen as the series dropping back to punt, abandoning all the good and bad that came before to start on fresh soil. The gambit pays off big, ultimately asking the question of what it would take to make a man risk himself as a vigilante. Essentially split into two films, the first half of Batman Begins shows the inspiration and training as a man turns tragic rage into motivation for action, while the second half becomes the tale of a city under siege in need of a savior. It's all portrayed in a darkly realistic, though still somewhat fanciful light, creating a grounded tableau for fantastic feats. It's helped along by some excellent performances, including Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and Batman, Liam Neeson and his exceptional charisma as the enigmatic Ducard, and an excellent turn by Michael Caine providing the film's powerful heart as the Wayne family's butler Alfred. The end result is sometimes a little silly, sometimes a little overblown, but yet manages to feel important and earnest. By its end, there is a need for Batman, and a feeling of ragged hope that is admirable in and of itself.

8 out of 10.