by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

That this film is about a man who ages backwards is almost entirely beside the point. As a central hook the idea is all but wasted beyond the introductory set-up, and is more an excuse for Brad Pitt to get progressively more attractive as the film goes on. What this really is, is a treatise on death and loss, on endless time and people that come and go. In that way, the story is a tragedy almost from the moment it starts. Yes it tries to play your heartstrings like a harp, but there is so much beauty to be found along the way. The production is lavish, with director David Fincher's signature eye for incredibly small detail pouring over every frame. The acting hits home as well, with both Pitt and Cate Blanchett turning in work that ages gracefully even when their characters don't. Coupled with the script and story, based on a short work by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the result seems a darker take on themes similar to Forrest Gump. This is a remarkable film for reasons that are difficult to entirely nail down. It is effective but obvious, beautiful, familiar yet new, and is the kind of experience that can sneak up on someone when they're not expecting it. If you could do with a bit of wistful melancholy, you'll find exactly what you need.

8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Here, I'll make this simple: did you grow up playing videogames? Then you need to see this. Look, I won't lie: headlining star Michael Cera, playing his usual awkward, irrepressibly repetitive, lovable scamp self, is overexposed to the point of being obnoxious. At this point it's a given. What I'm saying is to get over it just this once. He's not the reason to see this movie. This is one about the presentation, the story that flies by at 200kph splashing geek humor all over everything, for seeing life bars and power-ups become character beats, and for seeing the gamer audience as more than a bunch of closeted dweebs living in their parents' basements. It's for anyone who's ever chased a high score, fought a dragon, or saved a world in their spare time with their spare quarters. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Seeing Mr. Pilgrim battle Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends does get a little long in the tooth, as almost every fight at least starts out identically, and often even ends the same way. But it's the moments in-between the kung-fu: the sly winks to a knowing audience, the solid delivery of joke after joke after joke, and the pervasive use of the soundtrack from Zelda: A Link to the Past, that keep things levelling up. Sure, if you didn't grow up with these influences, you'll either be lost or bored or just not see what the big deal is. Yet for those of us sitting pretty in the target audience, this is finally a movie that understands.

9 out of 10 (if you played a lot of games as a kid; otherwise 7)

Kick-Ass (2010)

Start with a goofy tale about an awkward, comics-obsessed teenager deciding to run out in brightly colored tights with a mission to save the world, toss in a mob plot, and a foulmouthed father/daughter crime-fighting duo. Stick it in a blender for two hours and out comes this weirdly lovable ultra-violent mess of a movie. Almost nothing here is by the numbers—the combat is bloody, the language extra salty, and the heroes aren't really that heroic. Unlike other comic adaptations, there isn't any overarching message, or a direct source to be ripping on, this is just a straight up violent popcorn-muncher. Largely this works. The momentum and build-up are spot on, the twists mostly obvious and fun, and the drama is light and breezy with just a slight edge to keep you invested. This isn't a grand filmmaking, merely some good, dirty amusement.

8 out of 10.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Expendables (2010)

Did you like the 80s? Did you like watching Arnold and Bruce and Sly kick ass and be macho? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you should probably see this. Otherwise, this ultra manly man-love letter to the action movies of yesteryear might fly right past you. Oh yes, it's all back: giant plot holes you can drive a truck through, high bodycount shootouts that erupt from nowhere, gigantic (albeit older) muscles flexing while being splashed with their enemies' blood, and long winded descriptions of how awesome a guy's weapon of choice is. Sure they added some of the newer faces in the genre, and sure a bit of CG enhanced carnage splatters its way onscreen, but this is about a simple-minded as you remember it. That includes some of the bad, too: the acting fails to live up to its camp potential, and the action sequences are nonsensical and comically violent. If films like Commando were your thing back in the day, you'll get a grin out of this.

6 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Hangover (2009)

They say “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Sometimes it doesn't even get that far. Such is the case when four hapless guys gather to give a friend the most amazing bachelor party they'll never be able to talk about. Thing is, the next morning none of them have any idea what happened the night before and the bachelor himself is nowhere to be found. For as wild and over-the-top as the film is, really the story itself is the best thing it has going. Piecing events together bit by ludicrous bit keeps even the frequently mediocre humor from being a turnoff. As a comedy, it has a few chuckles and keeps a fairly persistent grin going, but it never seems to leap into something genuinely hilarious. The fun is instead found in seeing the utterly ridiculous situations the guys find themselves in, and learning how the writers will backpedal to explain. In an exceptionally rare turn of events, a comedy's plot successfully overshadows its humor.

7 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Road (2009)

Quietly trudging through the wasteland after the end of the world, a father and son simply try to survive. Just as Cormac McCarthy wrote his silent story of desperation, so it is with this film. It is a surprisingly faithful adaptation, especially considering how devastating and cruel the remainder of the world is portrayed. There is no safety, no beauty, no kindness, nothing left in this setting. Still, for as accurately as the original vision has been fit to the screen there is a surprising, if slight, disconnect throughout. This may be a perfect example of something being lost in translation. Without the stream-of-conscious narrative of the book, the crushing weight of the main characters situation doesn't settle as heavily. Similarly, the few dangers the characters encounter feel less ominous, and far more direct. Yet still, despite the subtlety lessened impact brought about, there is more than enough gravity to circumstances, more than enough desperation to go around.

8 out of 10.