by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)

Also known as OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espion.
Among the many things that are amusing about this film, and the character of French special agent OSS 117, is that it not only predates Get Smart, but even beat James Bond to the punch. OSS 117, French spy extraordinaire, is as obnoxious as a terrible French stereotype, and as clueless as Maxwell Smart. This isn't the kind of film that is obviously hilarious. There are few big setpiece jokes. This is mostly a constant-grin sort of affair, with our hero accidentally doing just the right thing over and over again. Meanwhile the story acquits itself well enough. There's little remarkable about the film as a whole, other than the fact that the humor translates over fairly well, but the whole thing comes together quite well. As a comedy riff on spy films, there are some good chuckles to be had here.

7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Burn After Reading (2008)

Seeing the CIA's braintrust crash against the jagged rocks of clueless stupidity should be more fun than this. When the wrong information falls into the hands of a a batch of barely-competent fitness instructors, there should be some play on what 'government intelligence' is, or some laughs that play up a lack of preparation, or something. This is more of a drama about things that are difficult to get invested in than it is a straight up comedy. Deadpan presentation may be the Coen Brothers' M.O. but this one takes itself too seriously to be anything more than passing funny. Then as a set of twisting traps and back-and-forth entanglement it also comes up short. It has a few moments that stand out, and at least one excellent left turn, but largely this is a bit of well presented, interesting-but-not-compelling fluff. It's inconsequential and innocuous, too serious to be silly, too silly to be serious.

5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Police procedural films live and die by their plot twists. It almost isn't worth bothering if the movie's entire world isn't turned upside-down by the time the credits kick up. This tries to be a salacious movie, a kind of what-if scenario by way of taking a 1950s mystery and giving it a modern coating of grit. It starts off as it should with each of the cop archetypes present and accounted for, right down to the Irish-accented police captain. Then, yes, things get complicated. As a novel the story must have been a gripping yarn, but as a film things get out of hand in just the right way to make the plot hard to follow. That doesn't make it any less interesting, but it's hard to invest in the story when you aren't sure who's double-crossing who exactly. The second half of the film is a whirlwind of shake-ups, and while they are excellent moments, there's little here that lingers after its over. For all the star power, and as excellently staged as moments within the story are, there's little here of substance. It's a fantastic quick fix for the genre, but it's a bit hollow.

7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Homer's The Odyssey, rewritten for the deep south in the 1930s, and sprinkled with bluegrass and images taken from old photographs. That about sums it up. The thing is, if you try to apply any sort of critical thought to it the whole thing collapses like a thing that falls apart. One moment you're watching some slightly madcap comedy, the next it's some dark fable, the next it's jumped inspirations entirely and is trying to ape Gulliver's Travels. It's not a mess, but if you've got more in your head than what's being fed, the bridge starts to sway a bit too strongly. So what if you step away entirely and just approach with a blank stare? Then things go down fairly smooth. The comedy bits become funny, the non-sequitors become charming, everything else just lends to the glazed-over surreality that the brothers Coen have concocted. The music remains excellent either way. So its a mixed bag. Either you'll see straight through it and wonder what the hell you're watching, or it'll wash over you leaving a pleasant (if strange) aroma.

7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

12 Angry Men (1957)

Courtrooms always seem to get the glory—attractive lawyers passionately defending or prosecuting some complex case, snide remarks to a judge threatening contempt, and a resolution that feels hard-fought and just. Equally as important, yet often overlooked, are the juries who decide these cases. The story here is as simple as the title: a jury, retiring after the completion of a murder trial, deliberate and discuss the case to try to reach a verdict. What makes this story so damn interesting is how well chosen each of the twelve personalities are. Some just want to leave and get back to their lives, some genuinely want to discuss the case, some are convinced with solid thinking, some just go along with the prevailing crowd. It's fascinating to watch them bounce off of each other, arguing their perception of the facts, and slowly let a clearer view of their decision come together. The film doesn't play for some grander message about what is good and great about the justice system, merely that everything is more complicated than the surface tends to show.

8 out of 10.