Sunday, November 29, 2009


Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox
4.5 stars
(out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

The way I see it, there are two kinds of movie buffs: those who swoon over the exceedingly ironic whimsy of American auteur Wes Anderson, and those who can barely stomach it. Personally, I've long considered myself a card-carrying member of the latter party, finding the bone-dry, wink-wink humor and cartoonish, pseudo-hipster sensibilities of films like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” not only inaccessible, but borderline intolerable. The truly fantastic “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson's stop-motion rendering of Roald Dahl's 1970 children's book, is a delightful movie that can finally unite us all in giddy, delirious harmony.

At last, Anderson has channeled his unique gifts into a project that is actually animated, rather than trying to overly animate a live-action landscape (and I'm not just referring to the literally animated flourishes that cluttered the frames of “The Life Aquatic”). At last, Anderson has found a way to retain the familiar aura that runs through all his films while welcoming everyone, not just a select few, to be in on the joke and the fun. He's created a world that is detailed and exciting, colorful and funny, and he's populated it with memorable characters who are zany and quirky, yet not to the extent they feel disingenuous. To enliven those characters, he's assembled an enviable bevy of gifted voice actors who never talk down to the audience. At last, Anderson has made a movie not to be tolerated, but adored.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Review: The Road
4 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Apart from its vivid imagery and heartbreaking intimacy, the most remarkable thing about Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning, post-apocalyptic 2006 novel, “The Road,” is, as always, the author's incredible way with words. In addition to such stylistic trademarks as its general lack of punctuation, what makes McCarthy's prose so distinctive is how it turns gritty, sometimes gruesome, scenarios into pure poetry.

The problem, of course, is that such magnificent language is almost always part of McCarthy's descriptions, not his dialogue, and thus the commitment of his work to film inevitably has to suffer some losses in the translation. The Coen Brothers, who masterfully adapted McCarthy's “No Country for Old Men” in 2007, understood this, using the author's words very sparingly, while also exhibiting a filmmaking technique that not only matched the artistry of those words, but exceeded it.


Monday, November 16, 2009


Review: 2012
1.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

According to the history books, the ancient Mayans predicted that on Dec. 21, 2012, planet Earth would undergo a global shift, changing the world as we know it. Some have interpreted this prophecy as one of a spiritual nature, others have considered it a sign of an impending apocalypse, and others have dismissed it as simply another phase of the Mayans' ongoing, cyclical calendar. One-note disaster movie director Roland Emmerich saw it as the ultimate opportunity to finally blow the entire world to smithereens, something he's come terribly close to doing before in movies like “Independence Day,” “Godzilla” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” If only the Mayans had warned us of the coming of this sadistic hack, they might have saved us from over a decade of mass murders dressed up as premium entertainment. Though it was never all that original, Emmerich's calamitous recipe at least had a smidgen of novelty in 1996's “Independence Day,” and in 2004, “The Day After Tomorrow” was watchable if only for its staggering visuals. But there's nothing fun about witnessing Emmerich gleefully slaughter billions and obliterate everything in sight in “2012,” the 54-year-old death junkie's most insensitive and shamelessly formulaic film to date.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Review: The Fourth Kind
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

There are moments in the inept, lowbrow sci-fi thriller “The Fourth Kind” when the bass is cranked up exceedingly high, as if to say, “now is the time for you to grip your armrests in terror.” I know this intimately because, in my screening, I sat in the very back row, right next to the speakers, which in those moments rattled the wall panels with the vigor of an earthquake. The blaring, bumping, dun-dun-dun! soundtrack is but one of the many ways that writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi practically bludgeons you with the notion that the events depicted in his directorial debut are very dramatic, very frightening and very, very real.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Review: Antichrist
5 stars
(out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Lars Von Trier's “Antichrist” defies traditional methods of critique, yet it begs to be analyzed. I surely can't comfortably recommend it, as I imagine many a viewer will lose his or her patience, temper, lunch, or all three in succession; nor can I dissuade serious filmgoers from seeing it, as it is, for better or worse, a work of tremendous, terrible power.

The plot is decidedly simple: a husband and wife (who are courageously played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, but remain nameless) suffer the death of their toddler son, who, in the movie's prologue, falls from the family's high-rise window while the couple engages in passionate sex. She, a writer studying witchcraft, is so consumed by grief that she needs to be hospitalized, and soon, her grief transforms into paralyzing fear. Believing that the source of her fears is Eden, the family's secluded cabin in the woods, he, a psychiatrist, decides that the best medicine would be for both of them to make a pilgrimage to the cabin so she can confront her demons head-on. Strange occurrences begin to accumulate, fear and distress give way to madness, and gradually, the pair inflict emotional and unmentionable physical pain on one another as a result of their tragedy, their surroundings, or, most unsettlingly, their very natures.

So, what of the title? “Antichrist” doesn't feature Linda Blair-like possessions or exorcisms, nor does it involve a creepy, Damien-like child who acts as the son of the devil. A child plays a key role in the narrative, of course, and there is talk of the devil (“Nature is Satan's church,” she says at one point), but this film in no way caters to the conventions to which audiences have grown accustomed. Nor is it really a horror movie, despite the inevitable, but misleading attempt of many (including distributor IFC Films) to place it in such a box. It is a psychological brain-teaser and eventual eye-scorcher set amidst a familiar horror backdrop (the woods) and peppered with a few staggeringly gruesome scenarios (I may never look at scissors the same way again). But much of the movie is slow and uneventful. There is an omnipresent sense of dread (with no small amount of credit due to the haunting sound design and the music by composers Hal Lindes and the famous Handel), but those expecting typical, bump-in-the-night scares would be better served – in the short and long run – by a screening of “Paranormal Activity.”

I'd say the title refers, quite literally, to Danish provocateur Von Trier's dark vision of an alternate, godless world – one that exists at odds with the one we know, which in many ways and in many circles is essentially built on biblical legend. He and she are not born into a lush garden. They do not go forth, bear children, and thrive. Contrarily, they lose their child while giving in to temptation, descend into an Eden that has become anything but lush, and devolve into an inhumane state of terror, hopelessness and despair.

In addition to being practically devoid of entertainment value, “Antichrist” offers no moral or existential lessons or benefits. At most, it gives us a glimpse into Von Trier's mind, which, albeit perverse, has produced some of the most interesting film projects of the last two decades (“Dogville,” “Dancer in the Dark,” “Breaking the Waves,” the Dogme 95 movement). For many critics, that glimpse has proven more than a little unsavory, as the ultra-violent and hyper-sexualized “Antichrist” has been dismissed as being “pretentious,” “artsy-fartsy,” “headline-grabbing,” “misogynistic” “torture-porn.” For you, that glimpse may well provide one hellish night at the movies, quite possibly leaving you with nausea and nightmares. For me, that glimpse was more than enough, as Von Trier has succeeded in piercing my psyche and unraveling my nerves.

“Antichrist” is the most profoundly disturbing film I've seen in years. Though calling certain scenes wince-inducing is putting it mildly, it is not so much its images that disturb, but their implications. Von Trier hints at some devastating larger truths within the story, and takes your imagination to places it would never independently explore. The visceral experience of watching the movie is tame compared to its ability to sear itself in the memory. I was initially provoked to think long and hard about what I'd seen, began to obsess over it, and then felt myself slipping into what can only be called a depression. Other responsibilities felt frivolous, for my mind was wholly preoccupied with Von Trier's “pretentious” little art film. And then I read the director's statement, which was released to the press: “Two years ago, I suffered from depression. Everything, no matter what, seemed unimportant, trivial. I couldn't work. Six months later, I wrote a script. It was a test to see if I would ever make another film [that film, of course, became 'Antichrist'].” I find it incredible that Von Trier was able to transmit those very feelings into his work, so fully and so potently that he elicited the same feelings in me. And if that means I fell for his “manipulative,” “headline-grabbing” scheme, then so be it.

I'm anointing “Antichrist” with five stars not just because I want to, but because I must. It is far too polarizing to be given some middle-of-the-road grade, and it's too visionary, impactful and artfully constructed to be abandoned at the bottom end of the scale. It is a beast of a movie – one that warrants in-depth study, but one that even the most hardened film scholars may not want to revisit. Also in his statement, Von Trier wrote, “('Antichrist') was filmed without much enthusiasm, made as it was using about half of my physical and intellectual capacity.” What's really scary is imagining what the writer/director might have created had he been firing on all cylinders.