by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Murder and mayhem go toe-to-toe with the fastest mouth in Orange County in Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black's directorial debut. There's a surprising verve and hilarious amount of chaos swirling around in this film, most of it thanks to legendary motormouth and leading man Robert Downey Jr. Simply put, every time the troubled actor opens his trap, comic gold spills out. Helping to keep the energy up is some great chemistry with costars Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan. The story itself is a mish-mash of largely-standard film-noir tropes centering on a few folks in and around the movie business trying to solve a mysterious murder. For the most part the plot is fairly blasé, but smart writing and the self-knowing wit of everyone involved let it slowly become a smart deconstruction of other films in the genre. To say much more would be to say too much, but it's a fairly safe bet that anyone who likes their humor dark with a side of dirty will have a ball with this.

9 out of 10.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Coraline (2009)

There’s just something about a well done kid’s film. The very best of them are like so many childhood memories: a little bittersweet, a little funny, a little strange, and a little scary. Coraline is all of these, wrapped in an absolutely gorgeous hand-animated package done frame for frame by the talented Henry Selick, creator and animator of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. Here, Selick’s awkwardly gothic visuals find a kindred spirit in the work of author Neal Gaiman, weaving this tale of alternate realities and negligent parents into a dark fantasy filled with charm and fright in equal measure. There’s a spirit of childlike innocence running throughout, but the darker threads are what take the fore and it’s a film that is all the better for it, giving the whole a nuance and impression of the most creative of bad dreams. Helping it all along is some extremely capable voice work, including an exceptional performance by Dakota Fanning as the titular lead. The few drawbacks to the films approach are almost all to do with whether or not the content might be too creepy for children, as while the film may only be rated PG, the atmosphere speaks to an older audience. At it’s core though, it’s an hour and a half of breathtaking visuals and exceptional creativity.

9 out of 10.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Watchmen (2009)

When adapting one of the most important graphic novels in existence to the screen, the questions that come to the fore are usually ones of accuracy and suitability for cinema. One ultimately wonders with this movie just how much adapting occurred when translating the original work to film. It's accurate almost to a fault, presenting a deeply, darkly dense tome of a film filled with unlikable but powerful crimefighters, all fighting against their own issues while trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the murder of a retired "hero". Make no mistake, there are moments in the film that soar, but even at two and a half hours of wall-to-wall plot and exposition it still may come off to some viewers as impenetrable, if still interesting. In many ways, it's a film made for the existing Watchmen fans more than the casual moviegoer—it is uncompromising, brutal, and at times bafflingly complicated. But it's also exciting, refreshingly new, and visually striking. In among the abundant nudity and stomach churning violence lies a story whose light was only mildly dimmed by the transplant. Ultimately, the failures of the film seem to lie not in the craft of the players on and behind the camera, but in the impossibility of putting something so potent and deep into a new format. Watchmen, as a graphic novel, has a limitless scope carefully exploited to take full advantage of the drawn picture and written word. The film then, is mostly very well made and the product of obvious devotion to the source, however it too often tries to find its footing in a product that was never meant to be seen in motion.

8 out of 10.

Note: Of the two versions available as of July 2009, the Director's Cut is definitely the one to see. It manages to fix the majority of the sticking points of the theatrical cut, and though it adds a few new complatints the result is still definitely a net win and a smoother experience in almost every way. Just be prepared for the full three hour runtime.

Watchmen (Graphic Novel - 1987)

For better or worse, Watchmen changed the “comic book” forever. Alan Moore's magnum opus of so-called super heroes is less of a cheerful yarn telling tall tales of daring and justice and incredible power, but of the aftermath and smoldering ruin of costumed avengers past their prime and relevance, hidden among a society that has had them outlawed. Set in an alternate version of 1985, the story begins as a retired hero is mysteriously murdered, and the demons of a man who lived above the law are unearthed, causing ripples in a community of former crime fighters and villains. What sets it apart is how it is less about costumes and pageantry, but about a series of fundamentally broken individuals who were once driven to battle the dregs of society for one reason or another. It asks what real, completely fallible and often reprehensible human beings would do with near limitless power in a company of peers. The story itself takes a backseat to deep, exhaustive character study, giving each protagonist their due and sense of place; the brutal sociopath Rorschach is given the same level of attention as the godlike, apathetic Dr. Manhattan. It's this level of character depth and darkness, this willingness to show heroic archetypes as unlikable, miserable, depressed, depraved, yet utterly fascinating humans that led Watchmen to its place in history. One can argue with the wisdom of dragging once kid-friendly works into maturity, however at the same time the sheer level of audacity and craft at work in this seminal tome is absolutely undeniable.

10 out of 10.