by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Also known as Rupan sansei: Kariosutoro no shiro .
Once in a while, you come across a film that is just fun. Not deep, or dark, or tailored to any specific audience. Just fun, and breezy, and breathlessly entertaining. The first feature by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki is one such film, providing a caper of absolutely effortless whimsy, and utter charm. The story here is simple: a group of clever thieves plot to make themselves rich, but get caught up in one man's scheme to imprison a princess and control her fortune. What makes it stand out are some extremely enjoyable characters and a handful of smile-inducing action sequences. In a lot of ways it's the Japanese animation equivalent to Raiders of the Lost Ark with much of the adventure included, even though it predates the iconic film by at least two years. This is simply a wonderful, completely enjoyable film, without pretension, without any sort of edginess. Just pure entertainment, simple as it can be.

9 out of 10.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Everyone who has followed the series thus far has been waiting for this. Up to this point, everything Terminator has been about preventing Judgment Day, the nuclear apocalypse set off by rogue computer Skynet, who would later go on to send robots back in time to assassinate the future leader of the resistance. Now Judgment Day has passed, the world is a blasted nuclear hellscape, and the surviving humans struggle against a ruthless robot army. Sure sounds exciting, doesn't it? In truth, it's quite bland. While the film has an inexhaustible special effects budget, and more explosions per minute than even the most accident-prone fireworks factory, the story, the characters, and sadly even the action consistently fail to impress. What could have been an interesting reset for the series instead inexplicably skips the early part and dives straight into the middle chapter, with the resistance up and running, and Connor already positioned to be the anti-robot messiah. There's no character struggle, and surprisingly little humanity given the series's themes so far. It jettisons almost everything fans have come to care about and fills in the blanks with bigger, more opaque blanks. And yet, there's still the nuggets here and there, where even the most jaded observer gets curious, or is wowed by a great effect or explosion. It's at these points, and only these points, where the film has a purpose. See it to munch on popcorn, turn your brain off, and watch the white noise. Do not see it because you care about the franchise.

4 out of 10.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Street Fighter (Live Action - 1994)

Whether they intended to or not, the creators of this film managed to make one hell of a B-movie. Labeling itself as a martial arts epic was probably the first mistake, but this videogame-based flick drips unique style and kitch in quantities that should be toxic. And it does so almost completely by mistake. Watching martial arts star and professional blowhard Jean Claude Van-Damme present every bit of acting acumen he has, and seeing it completely and hilariously marginalized against the simple grace and perfectly self-mocking arrogance of the great Raul Julia is truly cinematic fodder for excellence. In fact, Raul Julia's (sadly final) performance as dictator M. Bison may have been one of the finest B-movie performances out there. Julia drips 90s silliness, overblown self-importance, and even a very slight sense of good humored menace with so little effort that it's a shame this isn't a better film. Or even a good one. No, this is a terrible film with delusions of grandeur. But still, with as much good-natured hilarity on display, it's hard not to recommend a film that failed its way to watchability as well as this one has.

4 out of 10.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

Full disclosure: I am not a Trek fan. I never have been. While I have no real ill will toward the series, I've always found it a bit too sterile, a bit too preachy, a bit too mellow for my tastes. Too much science, not enough fiction. This film is a different beast, however. One with verve and spirit, with pure excitement and a sense of humor. It's good natured, and just plain fun. It's Star Trek for the rest of us. Director J.J. Abrams takes what we all know about the old crew, and starts again from scratch, crafting a pure popcorn munching good time. It isn't weighed down by flimsy morality, and though it never dips into the truly weird it definitely keeps up a spirit of adventure. It's one amazing set piece after another, populated by likable characters doing interesting things. The story itself is perhaps a bit convoluted (though extremely clever with regard to the old canon), and the effects a bit too shiny, but when there's this much great fun going on, it's hard to find too much fault.

8 out of 10.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Robocop (1987)

All things considered, this film shouldn't be anything more than a dated popcorn muncher. But there's something here, a sharp satirical edge and a total reckless abandon, that not only keeps it afloat, but somehow makes something just short of transcendent. Make no mistake, this is still completely, utterly an 80s action relic, but it's one with an endearing quality that manages to both embrace its obsolescence while it makes that same into a strength. While the cops of Detroit wrap their minds and guns around a cinematically convenient endless crimewave, the corporate-funded cyber cop fights his war against corporate America with a strong anti-drug, pro-violence attitude that is quintessentially 80s. It's fun stuff, packed with big explosions, gruesome violence, and a genuinely bizarre sense of mocking humor. While some of the special effects don't stand up, and the vision of the now-retro future is laughable at best, there's a nugget of innocence packed in here that feels refreshing even after all these years.

8 out of 10.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002)

What makes reviewing a film like this difficult is how subjective humor is. Suffice it to say that if you find “stupid” humor to be funny, along the lines of Kentucky Fried Movie or Harold and Kumar, then there's a very good chance that this film will make you laugh your way into a coma. Fans of Woody Allen's What's Up, Tiger Lily? may also want to check this out. Likewise, if you are a fan of illegal substances, boy have I got a film for you! Yet on the other hand, if humor has to make sense to illicit a laugh from you, if amusement only comes from broad setups and well-timed punchlines, if films have to actually be good in order to be funny, then you're more likely to turn this film off 10 minutes in and wonder about the mental state of anyone caught with this in their DVD collection. This is a stupid movie. A very, very stupid movie. But if you're in tune with its offerings of poor re-edits and re-dubs of an bad kung-fu flick from the 70s, you'll be hard pressed not to laugh yourself sore.

8 out of 10.