by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Monday, March 29, 2010

Choke (2008)

Much like Fight Club before it, Choke is a comedy about things that probably should not be funny. It shares a few other things with Fight Club as well: it is also about a mentally disturbed man whose scheme is uprooted by a woman, and it too is adapted from a book by Chuck Palahnuik. This tale gives us a sex addicted con-man whose mother is in the hospital and simply goes for a wild sprint from there. The raunchy humor comes at you sideways, catching you off-guard with a fantastically cruel sense of cynicism. Through it all Sam Rockwell's performance anchors things in a veil of ridiculous that fits the film like a glove. In the end it may lack some ambition, and a few scenes are somewhat dead, but the overall package is enough to keep you smiling from start to finish.

8 out of 10.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Watership Down (1979)

Respect for an audience can be a hard thing to come by in an animated film. For as many talking bears, singing princesses, and pieces of anthropomorphic silverware as have been drawn for the screen, few are given the chance to breathe and be part of something bigger than mere archetype. Watership Down is not a perfect film, but considering the time it was made and the general story, it's amazing that there was any consideration to make it more than just another kid's film, let alone a full-blown thriller. Seeing a group of rabbits strike out on their own to found a new colony wouldn't be this tense if it had been in more market-minded hands. But there's a confidence here, and a sense of respect enough for the laws of nature to show things maybe not as they really are, but as the could be. It's dark and it's violent sure, but it's honest, and doesn't let tragedy break its stride. Though at times it may seem more interested in how a rabbit moves about than in telling its story, there's definitely a sense of weight and intelligence to be appreciated.

8 out of 10.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Going back to your roots is always a risky proposition. As directors grow, the things that made them able to make the kind of experience that sparked their career fade. It's nice to see that Sam Raimi doesn't really have that problem. In some of the best possible ways this shows that Raimi may not have evolved at all since the days of Evil Dead. It's every bit the cheesy, crowd-pleasing scarefest that he cut his teeth on. The story of a woman cursed to be, of course, dragged off to Hell, has plenty of easy hooks and evenly placed jumps, but is also remarkably direct with its intentions. It knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and gives off clever smiles as often as demonic fright. In the end, it's nothing more than is standard for the genre, but is so much fun that it hardly matters.

8 out of 10.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dragonball: Evolution (2009)

Perhaps the most shocking part of this film is that it isn't garbage. Nobody is going to come out and say that this is a triumph of cinema or anything, but this generally unnecessary live-action remake of the wildly popular martial-arts action cartoon has a thing or two going for it. Best among them, a complete lack of taking itself seriously. The characters, the situations, even the costumes all reference back to just how preposterous everything is. It gives the film a breezy air of silliness, resulting in a pleasantly kid-friendly series of fights, sprinkled with light humor. The production values aren't half-bad either. None of this changes that it's generally a stupid movie with a nigh-incomprehensible story and dull action sequences, but the camp value the film knowingly dumps on the audience is, if nothing else, excellent grist for drunken cynicism.

4 out of 10.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hancock (2008)

Had it actually bothered to have a beginning, this might have been a fun flick. Unfortunately, the very moment you start to care even the least for the characters, the credits start to roll. So what does that leave us with? A bunch of players who remain bland until the very end, a smattering of action sequences that barely make any visual sense, and jokes that lack the proper setup and context to be genuinely funny. It needs a first act, but instead we just leap right into the thin of things. But even worse is that there really wasn't a lot of potential squandered to begin with. Beyond the most basic premise of a homeless alcoholic with superpowers, the rest is almost all gristle. Past a few clever bits toward the middle, there's pretty much nothing to see here.

4 out of 10.

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Name Is Bruce (2007)

Unfortunately, this is probably about as close as Bruce Campbell will ever get to doing another Evil Dead. Pity too, as this film definitely shows he still has the badass side of that character in him. Here Bruce Campbell directs Bruce Campbell playing Bruce Campbell, kidnapped by a devoted fan to do battle an ancient demon unleashed in a small mining town. It's a B-movie with an oversized B, filled with loving fan-service and covered in a thick layer of good natured cheese. It's a film for Campbell's fans, featuring bits plucked from all his best stuff, wrapped in the attitude of Army of Darkness, and stuffed with self-parody. If you have a hearty respect for Campell's more egomaniacal characters, there's a lot to enjoy here. If you don't already have some love for the man with the infinite chin, this might not be your cup of tea.

6 out of 10.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Michael Mann can be a very hit or miss director. For every Heat or Collateral, there's a Last of the Mohicans. It isn't that the film is bad necessarily, just that it's hard to like something that is missing so many parts. Great waves of plot simply wash over you with little to no emotional attachment to spur interest, leaving you with setpiece after impressive setpiece. It's like if someone made a movie of only the good parts, without anything in between to make it mean anything. Sure there's a story in this muddled, schizophrenic tale of trappers and British in Colonial America, but so little time is spent giving it context that it all collapses. This isn't a terrible film, and at times it's a fairly attractive one, but there simply isn't enough weight or heft to make this worth the time.

4 out of 10.

Note: This review is based on the 1999, 2-hour re-edit of the film. Unfortunately, it's the only version available on DVD in the US.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Also known as Per un pugno di dollari.
As far as remakes go, this one is hard to beat. Taking Akira Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo and reimagining it as a western works better for this story than one would expect; the desolate desert countryside, the bandit gangs' pistols replacing samurai swordsmen, it all fits together extremely well. Just like Yojimbo, a man rides into an isolated town in the middle of a war between two gangs. Deciding something needs doing, he sets out destroy both, whether the townspeople want it or not. The resulting clever manipulation and chaos is solid entertainment. Clint Eastwood is in his early prime here, squinting his way through one tough situation after another and giving his grumpy gunfighter a great sense of humor and stubbornness. Meanwhile all of the points that its predecessor got right are mimicked here to great effect, and often perfectly expanded upon. While it's easy to label this movie a plagiarized remake of an earlier great film, that doesn't mean it can't succeed on its own.

8 out of 10.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

Also known as Per qualche dollaro in piĆ¹.
Bounty hunters roaming the west, searching out bandits and turning in their corpses for cash. It's a hell of a way to make a living, and one that our friend Clint Eastwood fits right in to. Here the man with the permanent squint competes with a fellow bounty hunter while going after an absolutely ruthless gang leader. The result is an epic dose of uneasy truces, rousing gunfights, and Eastwood's trademark cold attitude. Every bit of this movie drips with the very best of what Westerns have to offer: the wild open fields, the saloons and bar fights, tough hombres packing six-shooters—it's all here, and presented by a master's steady hand. Even more than four decades since its creation, this film has barely aged a day. Sure, the sound is a bit muted and some of the pacing doesn't quite fit with today's hyper-cut action extravaganzas, but It's still exciting, still intriguing. As part of the archetype for the modern action hero, and the modern action film, this film deserves its place in history.

9 out of 10.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Also known as Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo.
What can be said about this movie that hasn't been said already? The score is legendary, the actor is a cinematic mainstay, the title itself is a constant reference in pop culture, and the film itself is largely considered the defining film in the genre. So it's important at least, but is it any good? Does it hold up to decades of age? In a word: yes. In a bigger word: YES. This savage treasure hunt has barely aged a day. Every moment of its gun slinging charm and backstabbing twists hold up to years of scrutiny. Eastwood's nameless hero still remains the archetype for the modern movie action hero, while the moments where the film crosses paths with the Civil War remain potent and some of cinema's most impressive scenes. There is genuinely nothing to knock here, nothing to criticize. If you have any love of cinema at all, watching (or re-watching) this is three hours incredibly well spent.

10 out of 10.