Monday, March 29, 2010


Review: Hot Tub Time Machine
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

An exquisitely ridiculous high-concept romp with the most delectable title since “Snakes on a Plane,” “Hot Tub Time Machine” is one of those rude and raunchy male comedies that's refreshingly smarter than your average rude and raunchy male. Directed with party animal-meets-valedictorian verve by Steve Pink (“Accepted”), and written by the witty team of Josh Heald, Sean Anders and John Morris (who put their slightly sick heads together to concoct outrageous, yet sharply convincing bro-man banter and behavior), the movie isn't liable to land on anyone's list of classics, but it makes for one helluva fun night out without zapping your brain cells. It made me laugh heartily and often, which is more than I can say for any other comedy I've seen this year.


Monday, March 22, 2010


Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
4 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” or “Men Who Hate Women,” as it's called in its native Sweden, where it broke box-office records last year to become the most successful Scandinavian film in history, constantly straddles the line between being old and being bold. An adaptation of the first book of late author Stieg Larsson's international smash-hit “Millenium” trilogy, the film, adeptly if unexceptionally directed by Niels Arden Oplev, unfolds like a lot of other elaborate whodunits, at least in terms of the mechanics of its basic structure. There's nothing all that novel or blindsiding about the major plot developments, which is never a good thing to say when discussing a modern mystery movie (even if it's clearly aiming to evoke some classic mystery-movie mojo). But there is indeed an engulfing story here, and as it sprints through most of its 152 minutes, the film gives forth an attitude so fierce it winds up standing out after all.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Review: Green Zone
2 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

The first time I checked my watch during “Green Zone,” an anti-war dizzy spell from director Paul Greengrass, it was to find out how long I'd been sitting through scene after scene of characters screaming at each other. The answer? Thirty minutes. Thirty minutes in which an obnoxious gaggle of barely believable soldiers, politicians, journalists, townsfolk and special agents do little more than argue and shout run-of-the-mill exposition over the din of gunfire, automobiles, explosions, riots, aircraft engines and yet more arguing. And that's just one quarter of this gripping-on-the-drawing-board, grating-on-the-screen thriller, which adamantly aims to shake up the Establishment with its attack on the motives for the Iraq war, but mainly ends up testing audience tolerance for infernal racket and bad writing.

Surely I don't expect my military movies to whisper, but, then again, a little film called “The Hurt Locker” just snagged six Oscars for mastering the art of speaking softly and carrying some big improvised explosive devices and even bigger themes of disillusionment. In “Green Zone,” written by hit-or-miss screenwriter Brian Helgeland (hit: “Mystic River,” miss: “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant”), the recipe for tension consists of near-constant cranked-up volume, hectic hysteria and ludicrously overcooked altercations. Rarely is there a burst of actual excitement because there's nary a break in this most rudimentary of dramatic approaches. Everyone's REALLY worked up about something VERY serious, but hell if we can identify with the urgency of their actions, so superficially are those actions presented to us.


Monday, March 8, 2010


Review: Alice in Wonderland
3 stars
(out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

“Alice in Wonderland,” Tim Burton's 3-D addendum to Lewis Carroll's “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” starts off in Victorian London, introducing us to 6-year-old Alice (Mairi Ella Challen), who tells her doting father (Martin Csokas) of the dreams (or are they memories?) she's been having about talking caterpillars and waistcoat-wearing white rabbits. Jump ahead 13 years: daddy has died, and Alice (Mia Wasikowska), still fanciful but visibly worn down by harsh reality, is off to contend with her unsavory betrothed, Hamish (Leo Bill), at a nose-in-the-air garden party with frilly frocks and crumpets.

From top to tails, the production design of this early portion is quite beautiful, staged and inhabited in that Burtonian, rough-around-the-pretty-edges manner that's of this world, yet still north of reality. There's a storybook ring to the dialogue, characters are vivid and enjoyably histrionic, and the environment is caught in clever, cohesive detail by a man whose aesthetic is one of the most identifiable in modern cinema. Fine as the scenery is, it's surely not Alice's scene, and as Hamish prepares to pop the question before an audience of oglers, our heroine spots her furry, hoppity friend, chases after him, and tumbles down fiction's foremost rabbit hole.


Monday, March 1, 2010


Review: The Crazies
3 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

While reading dozens of decade-in-review articles in December and January, I found more than a few film writers who pointed out the wave of zombie pictures that flowed through the '00s, citing titles like “Dawn of the Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “28 Days Later,” “28 Weeks Later,” “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “Zombieland” and “Zombie Strippers.” Well, it's 2010, and though it may seem like vampires are the reigning movie monsters of the new decade, the arrival of “The Crazies” proves the zombie genre is still alive – er, undead – and kicking.

Whether or not that's a good thing is another story. A remake of a little-seen 1973 flick by the godfather of walking-dead cinema, George A. Romero (who serves as an executive producer this time around), “The Crazies” has the benefit of a narrative that especially emphasizes the particulars of the all-important virus element, and it has the knowhow to use those details to create some real, compelling drama. But the spine of this story, and its strenuously withheld foregone conclusion, feel all too much like the same old flesh-eating song (even if I didn't catch these bad boys actually eating flesh). Do we really need another zombie movie? Isn't anyone else all zombied out? Don't these bloody outings start to blur together? Outbreak. Infection. Reanimation. Hysteria. Rinse. Repeat.