by Kris Katz
Brief spoiler-free entertainment reviews

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Simply put, this is as appropriately named as a movie could possibly be. Films by Wes Anderson can be a hard sell to some people—his penchant for darkly deadpan delivery means that it can sometimes be too easy to take him seriously. Not so here, as the mix of whimsical stop motion, smartly written kid-friendly tale, and infectiously low-key characters create a sense of unexpected calm amidst the considerable chaos. This is not a film that goes for the big laughs and the big excitement, but rather nudges itself along with a sly wink and a charming giggle. It is at times both pedestrian and ironic, while simultaneously being impossible and straight-forward. This is a very smart film, fully capable of instilling wonder in adults and knowing smiles in children. There is not quite enough drive to push this excellent movie into classic territory, but in almost every way this is a beautiful, thoughtful, delightful ride for anyone who likes their entertainment with a touch of subtlety.

9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

JCVD (2008)

Jean-Claude Van Damme, the muscles from Brussels, is a washed up actor who's hard up for cash and credibility. Then he gets involved in a bank robbery. There's a strange thing going on in this mostly-French language film. With Jean-Claude playing himself, the fourth wall is but a plot device, and in fashion similar to Being John Malkovich there's the sense that the things going on behind the scenes are as important as the on-screen result. Van Damme seems to be trying to reinvent himself with this film, repositioning himself with a mea culpa for his reputation, and the result is surprising and compelling. Sadly, the same cannot be said for most of the remainder of the film, which is a largely standard trip through the genre. There's nothing particularly bad about the story being told, just that it doesn't really stand out. Yet still, there's a nugget here from Van Damme, a genuine showing that there's more to things than what usually makes the cut. While the film itself may not be much, there is still something honest to be appreciated.

6 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Box (2009)

Someone drops a box off at your door. Inside is a button. You are informed that if you press the button someone you do not know will die, and you will be given one million dollars. You have twenty-four hours to decide whether or not to push the button. And from that, things get weird. What starts out as a great bit of mental torture and suspense quickly gives way to an extended episode of The Twilight Zone with all the trimmings. Unfortunately, it's just about as cheesy too. There's some excellent weirdness going on in this movie, but while the scope of events from one reveal to the next is spot on, the sense of mystery doesn't quite follow suit. Lots of things change for the cooler, but it's hard to really care beyond curiosity. That's a shame too, because with a bit more love and a lot less runtime this could have been a perfect popcorn muncher. The same Richard Kelly that brought us the excellent Donnie Darko does a very good job capturing the vintage 70s television vibe throughout, but alas it just doesn't quite come together in a way that does its far-out ideas justice.

5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Black Dynamite (2009)

Blaxploitation has to be a tough genre to revive in these over-sensitive times. For all the cheek we get out of other exploitation genres, it's hard not to cringe at the idea of making a film that “exploits” a racial culture. But then a riotous throwback like this comes along and you remember to ask “who cares as long as it's fun?” This film is as much about culture as Airplane! is about aviation. What this winds up being is a solid ninety minutes of smartly foul, hysterically absurd humor, poking fun at all the Blaxploitation tropes, from the sassy women to the giant afros to the ever-present fight against The Man. It's all here and it's all gloriously cheesy. Nunchucks are swung, asses are kicked, and fourth walls are broken, and by the end it's all a warm glow of fantastically trashy humor.

8 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Das Boot (1981)

As far as harrowing scenarios go, it's hard to picture worse than being trapped in a metal contraption hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean with every pipe around you creaking under the pressure, and enemy ships passing by above you determined to see you drown. Try to forget for a moment that his is a film about Germans in World War II; just focus on the human drama on display. The result in unbelievably tense and thoroughly nerve wracking. There is rarely a dull moment in the film, as each passing boat or each life-threatening trial perfectly ups the ante. Being that it is film about the unrelentingly tight quarters of a German U-Boat, the atmosphere of cramped quarters is sold to perfection. If you are claustrophobic, you may want to give this one a pass It may not be perfect, largely thanks to some transparent production whenever the boat surfaces, and an ending that feels either contrived, or bluntly honest, but even with those caveats this film is a masterpiece of total suspense, and a fascinating peek at a nightmare situation for many people.

9 out of 10.