by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tombstone (1993)

Westerns tend to fall into two camps. Either they present a difficult message about the morality of a time gone by, wistful recollections of lives and loves lost and a country that still had some mystery to it. Or they are simply about the a bunch of the manliest men doing the manliest thing a man could do in the manly Wild West: killing folk with six-shooters. Unfortunately, this falls into the later category. That doesn't mean it's a bad film, per se, but if you're going to show off famed lawman Wyatt Earp's handiwork at the O.K. Corral, it seems a waste that the lasting impression the movie tries to shove around is “look how awesome this was!” Still, the frontier town vibe, the optimistic, if simplistic, motives of everyone involved, and the presence of some of the most impressive facial hair in cinema history make this worthwhile if you're after a solid no frills western. Watching Val Kilmer chew on scenery as Doc Holiday for two hours is worth the price of admission alone. While it seems hard not to knock the film for what it ain't, what it is is generally pretty good.

7 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

RocknRolla (2008)

For director Guy Ritchie, returning to the genre that helped him make his mark must be a bittersweet homecoming. The over-stylish British ganster genre really hasn't existed without him, and having him back ought to be enough to recharge the batteries in a single shot. But alas, no. The inventive grittiness present in both Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, is gone, replaced with the relative gloss of real estate extortion gone wrong. The style of filmmaking itself is still present, thankfully, with the ever-fun smash cuts and whip pan cutaways. It's never dull to look at. Though little of that matters when the script tries and fails to be funny as often as this one does. Winding and wacky as much of the film manages to seem, a lot of it still feels like a hollow shell, or a vain attempt to reproduce something that the director has simply grown out of.

4 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unforgiven (1992)

You can't argue that Clint Eastwood didn't have a good teacher when it comes to putting together a good western. For the most part, those lessons seems have been taken to heart, as this tale of beat up brothel girls and the men hired to exact revenge manages to hit all the right notes. You've got your wide and untamed expanses, a tough-as-nails sheriff trying to keep order, hookers with hearts of gold, and Eastwood himself bringing the permanent squint. The devil, of course, is in the details, and this in many ways feels like Leone's (and Eastwood's) Man with No Name character a few decades hence, reformed and deeply remorseful. Everything has an air of melancholic sadness, every shootout feels like a hollow victory. There's an emotional depth here uncommon in the genre, in contrast to the usual fond nostalgia for a bygone era. This is a film that takes its time not to build suspense, but to build a point. The result is a feeling of heartbreaking loss at what time and sorrow can do to a man.

9 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hot Shots (1991)

A moment of silence for the good screwball comedy. There's something to be said for a good one-two punchline brought on by a throw-away non-sequitor and a terrible pun. In a lot of ways, it seems to be a lost art. While not up to the quality of the Naked Gun films, this little gem has enough great moments to cover up many of its failings. Choosing Top Gun as its inspiration, the primary problem is that the film tries to play it a bit more straight than most of its peers, making a slight attempt at giving the story an actual progression. The humor that drops in is largely incidental. Yet star Charlie Sheen, and the late Lloyd Bridges, still bring their A-game, hamming up the screen and giving clever winks to the camera. Bridges in particular is hilarious as a mumbling, senile, injury-prone navy admiral. In all, it's not the kind of film that anyone would mistake for a comedy classic, but it definitely is worth its share in fond memories.

7 out of 10.

Hot Shots: Part Deux (1993)

When it comes to sequels, the comedy that surpasses its predecessor is rare indeed. The first was far from a classic, but in making this follow-up it's clear the makers did everything in their power (and budget) to improve the formula. So here we are again, this trading in the open sea of Top Gun for Rambo: First Blood Part 2's jungle forest setting. The jokes are bigger and flashier, the writing more amusingly convoluted, and they had the great sense to throw Lloyd Bridges onscreen much more than last time. It all works, and though the ravages of time have not been kind to some of the gags and plot points, the level of outlandish creativity tossed about is simply delightful.

8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

City of God (2002)

Also known as Cidade de Deus.
Liked Goodfellas and don't mind subtitles? Then you absolutely need to see this. Detailing the life of a boy living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro as those around him grow up into a life of crime, each step forward in this twisted narrative shows off more fascinating wrinkles while the scope just keeps expanding. It's a film that enjoys taking frequent detours from the main plot, cleverly charting their way back to the core, and treats the unbelievable violence going on throughout almost with a kind of nostalgia. For these people, the chaos and danger is just a way of life. The result is epic yet intimate, and incredibly focused on its characters and culture. By the end it feels significant and essential, it's harsh realities shockingly relatable, and effectively unforgettable.

9 out of 10.