Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Review: Easy Money
3 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

It's easy to be impressed by the breadth of Easy Money, a two-hour crime saga that packs in enough dirty details, plot tendrils, and peripheral characters to feel worthy, at least in spirit, of the Martin Scorsese endorsement that's stamped on the film's posters. Known as Snabba Cash in its native Sweden, where it topped 2010's box-office charts before being snatched up by the Weinstein Company, the movie ultimately benefits from a sprawling sense of narrative accomplishment, thanks to the comprehensiveness with which lawyer turned author Jens Lapidus's hit novel is adapted. But coupled with the kind of gritty technique that can read as compensation for lack of substance, the scope is precisely what serves to mask Easy Money's intimate failings.


Review: Katy Perry: Part of Me
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Katy Perry: Part of Me begins with a slew of video confessionals from teenagers, who declare that the pop star's music and lyrics have changed their lives. "She writes songs about real experiences," says one fan. "She tells me it's okay to be me," says another. Within moments, the action cuts to Perry's backstage inspection of a whipped-cream-shooting candy cane, and her own declaration that, in her skimpy new concert outfit, she looks like she's "got an ass like Nicki Minaj." Directed by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, whose production company, Magical Elves, was also behind Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, this frothy 3D concert doc spends its entirety toggling between put-on profundity and frivolous, risqué showstoppers, resulting in a disconnect that hinders the goal of exposing an artist's identity.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Review: The Magic of Belle Isle
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

That the The Magic of Belle Isle can conjure any true feeling at all is some kind of wonder. Set in upstate New York, at the idyllic lakeside town of the title, this gooey reteaming of Rob Reiner and Morgan Freeman is crammed tight with baldly manipulative elements, its tearjerker quota busting at the seams. A cute dog, a mentally challenged neighbor, a caricatured Muslim cashier, a precocious young girl, her adorable sisters, a kindly single mom, and Freeman's redemption-bound curmudgeon are all accounted for, in a setting where the sun kisses everything and everyone knows your name. Freeman's character, a washed-up, wheelchair-bound author, goes by the name of Monte Wildhorn, and like the hero in the western novel that made his career, Monte exudes the moody heartache of a lonely cowboy—or, at least, that's what we're supposed to think. When Monte moves into a rent-free cabin with little more than a snarl, a Larry McMurtry typewriter, and a soon-to-be-replenished supply of scotch, he's greeted by all but the violins.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Review: The Dictator
2 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

In The Dictator, no real-life, innocent bystanders are accosted, and that may just be the most significant flaw of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest, an uncharacteristically arid and unfunny potboiler that makes Borat seem worlds away. For the first time since 2002's Ali G Indahouse, Baron Cohen forgoes the mockumentary style that made him a global superstar, and opts instead for ultra-produced, narrative-humor traditions. He emerges with something that calls to mind the worst of Mike Myers, and lacks the utilized vigor of mad happenstance that colored his last two Larry Charles collaborations. In terms of being on trend, it makes sense that Baron Cohen would want to change his formal tune, as the 15 minutes for faux docs are most certainly up. But in the past decade, no mock-doc star has pushed buttons and tickled ribs better than the man behind Borat and Brüno, and it's something of a crime that The Dictator, a base-level provocation at best, feels like thousands of other filmic expressions of gross-out, bad behavior.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Review: Hick
1 star (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

It doesn't take long to gather the influences trickling through Derick Martini's Hick, an aimless tumbleweed of a road movie if ever there was one. Pointing a .45 at a bedroom mirror in her shabby Nebraska home, which rests in the silo-riddled outskirts of a podunk main drag, 13-year-old Luli (Chloë Grace Moretz) does her best Travis Bickle while reciting lines from Dirty Harry. Her walls are papered with drawings of both cowboys and princesses, and as she asks her reflection if it "feels lucky," she shakes her hips to move the ruffles on a pair of rainbow panties. Over the rainbow is indeed where Luli dreams of ending up, and with her halter top, sunglasses, pistol, and improvised basket (a fringed and studded cowgirl's handbag), the soon-to-be runaway looks every bit the hybrid of Judy Garland's Dorothy and Jodie Foster's Iris Steensma, whose mohawked guardian seems a Luli fantasy spawned by daddy issues (her boozy father, played by Anson Mount, is barely in the picture).

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is continually resuscitated by the basic elements of its conceit. Based on the 2004 novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, it tells of a handful of senior citizens who converge on a 55-and-over retreat in India, and the golden-year stars and golden-hot locale offer grand assistance to screenwriter Ol Parker, whose adaptation otherwise feels like a rather workaday rom-com. The dialogue penned for the characters isn't without heart or interest, but it's much ado about little until spoken by the likes of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Maggie Smith, who lend the material a sizable touch of class. Clustered together as if headed to a summer camp for West End stage greats, the distinguished company of Dames and Sirs (also on board are Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, and Celia Imrie) provides numerous pockets of earnest interplay, and the surroundings, a bejeweled bit of third-world bustle that visually recalls Fernando Meirelles's shaky-cam stomping grounds, manage to add urgency and natural beauty to a plot flecked with saccharine flourishes.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Review: Sound of My Voice
3 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

In this age of dime-a-dozen mockumentaries and found-footage thrillers, the urgent phrase "We have to complete this film!" has become both eye-roller and mood-killer. For modern audiences, there aren't too many plot and protagonist propellers more tired than the moral obligation to keep shooting whatever troubling things are afoot. And so it is that Sound of My Voice arrives with a built-in drawback, hinging its infiltration of a time-traveler's cult on a young couple's filmmaking project, and devoting plenty of screen time to arguments over whether or not production should cease. Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) is a skeptical journalist determined to expose the deception of Maggie (Brit Marling), the ailing leader of a group of L.A. basement dwellers, who claims she's journeyed back from 2054. Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius), Peter's recovering-addict girlfriend, is the accomplice quick to voice trepidation when things get extra spooky.