by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Commando (1985)

As we all know, once upon a time Arnold Schwarzenegger was freaking huge, and every film he was in throughout the 80s and early 90s was built specifically to highlight that fact. Here we're introduced to him carrying a chainsaw and a tree over his shoulder, because being a half ton of solid badass somehow wasn't manly enough on its own. Soon after, his daughter is kidnapped by a third world military junta. Daring feats of improbable, ultra-macho manliness ensue. If disposable eighties cheese and gigantic guns being emptied into faceless bad guys are your thing, then you'll be in heaven from start to finish. This movie is what it is though: a one-off sequence featuring continuously rising body count. As far as these types of films go it's more archetypal than actually good. It laid groundwork for dozens of films to follow, but on the whole it simply doesn't have a lot going for it on its own. If you can turn your brain completely to “off”, then you may welcome the hair this film puts on your chest. Otherwise it's probably better to move on to bigger, more preposterously manly fare.

6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

American History X (1998)

Obvious message about racism is obvious. Between the heavy-handed slow-motion, and an overbearing score that's as subtle as a sledgehammer set on fire, this is a film that is so in service to its message that it nearly forgets about filmcraft. It's not that that message isn't worth hearing, or is any less relevant today than it was when the film was made, it's just that being beat over the head with one extreme after another has a way of disengaging the people who need to hear it. Still, taken for the heavy-handed monster that it is there is still some merit here. Seeing an ex neo-Nazi try to keep his little brother from following in his footsteps is a good opening salvo in the discussion, but ultimately the movie itself only ever feels like just that: an opening salvo in the discussion.

6 out of 10.
Might take some heat for this one...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

While the first sailed by on a whip-smart script and a stellar performance by Robert Downey Jr., part 2 swings by on upped production values and a larger focus on things that aren't the metal man himself. It's a different approach that pays off in a completely different way, but it may bug you depending on what it was about the first that you enjoyed. Like any sequel, the budget is bigger and the cast flashier. There are more things to distract from genuine character building, and in some ways it seems drunk on its own success (at least one subplot could have been cut entirely without hurting the film). But the switch-up lets there be more variety. The moments with the stars have less to say, but feel more special for their rarity. The action sequences are bigger in scope and impact, and better integrated into the story. The new characters all fit in fairly well with the old. The most damning thing to say about the film is that it only does what the first did, but bigger. Yet still, that works for what is only meant to be fun and funny. By the end, less may feel accomplished, but it's a more impressive ride regardless.

8 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

After Last Season (2009)

As a four-minute short film about neuroscience students unraveling a murder plot, it might have made for a workable B-grade student film. Unfortunately, this film goes on. And on. And on. What might work as an in-and-out college-level short is instead stretched out to ninety joyless minutes. Where to begin? How about the constant sound of pipe drainage in the background of every scene, or how each set is just some corkboard over drywall, or the MRI made of construction paper? Yes, the film really is that cheaply made. But worse is the unbelievable amount of dead space in the film. The actors show a largely inoffensive blasé attitude, but with gigantic spans of time between each line and a script filled with acres of completely useless information the whole affair seems like glacial episode of Seinfeld without even an attempt at humor. From top to bottom, this is just bad. It's barely even ripe for ribbing. That said, there are still worse films out there. The worst tend to waste talent. For this, there wasn't any talent to begin with.

1 out of 10.