Monday, September 27, 2010


Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
2 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

A funny – make that infuriating – thing happens during the course of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Oliver Stone's 23-years-later sequel that's as strained and cumbersome as its title. At first, it seems Stone is terribly guilty of what so many other franchise-helmers have been: putting far too much starry-eyed stock in his big, iconic character. When master-of-greed Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) gathers his tacky '80s effects while leaving a lengthy prison stint, and when he later appears on television to promote his new book, his name is enunciated with such holy emphasis you'd think Stone expected every finance guru on Earth to get tingly at the pulpy, alliterated sound of it. (Gekko is a legend, yes, but there's an icky feeling he's nowhere more a legend than in Stone's own mind.) Soon, however, matters take a turn for the even worse as it grows clearer and clearer that neither Stone nor screenwriters Stephen Schiff and Allan Loeb have any interest in retaining the nasty spirit of the slick-haired villain that landed Douglas an Oscar. The new Gekko is a de-fanged bore whose actions are both contrived and incongruous, and the whole movie follows in his wavering footsteps.

Monday, September 20, 2010


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

Watching “The Town,” it's practically impossible to process that it was made by Ben Affleck. It's not that Affleck's movie-star slump was ever bad enough to obliterate the possibility of seeing him as an artist, or that the other film he directed, “Gone Baby Gone,” wasn't a solid (if disjointed and overpraised) debut feature; it's that nothing this man has ever created has suggested he had the capacity to create something like this – the best heist-heavy urban crime saga since “The Dark Knight” and one of the best movies of the year.

Co-written by Affleck (with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard) and starring him as well, “The Town,” based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan, could have very well wound up a desperate, self-important vanity project. But it never feels like that, even with Affleck's main character, Doug MacRay, getting all the ponderous monologues, lingering close-ups and criminal-with-a-conscience glory. Most startling is how this Hollywood picture is so minimally compromised, and how, from the dynamic character interactions to the arresting street shoot-outs, it bears the inner-city grit and richness of a fierce filmmaker who's been at it for years. You will think: Michael Mann. Martin Scorsese.


Monday, September 13, 2010


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

“All films are part fiction,” disclaims a pre-credit scroll at the start of “Mesrine,” director Jean-François Richet's epic French-language biopic. “No film can recreate all the complexity of a human life,” it continues. Fair enough. But if the real Jacques Mesrine, the John Dillinger of France, did even a fraction of what actor Vincent Cassel does in this two-part saga about the gangster's crime spree in the '60s and '70s, it'd still make one hell of a motion picture experience, exciting and quite complex indeed.

Now playing at arthouse venues, parts one (“Mesrine: Killer Instinct”) and two (“Mesrine: Public Enemy #1”) were both released in France in 2008, where they were nominated for multiple César Awards and won three (Best Actor, Best Director and Best Sound). It would be easy to say the first part shows the rise of Mesrine and the second part shows the fall, but only the former would be true, as the man we see never really falls; he's just finally knocked down. Like Dillinger, Mesrine didn't suffer some devastating downward spiral, and given the chance, he would have surely kept on living the felonious life, smiling all the way.


Monday, September 6, 2010


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

Although the basis for “Machete” is in fact an idea concocted by writer/director Robert Rodriguez in the early 1990s, one could say this Tex-Mex tale of bloody vigilantism is the first movie based on a phony trailer. And if it's not, it's surely the most popular. The public got its first taste of “Machete” in 2007, when it debuted as one of the soaringly over-the-top intermission attractions of “Grindhouse,” Rodriguez's and Quentin Tarantino's hyper-stylized, cigarette-burned, midnight-madness double feature. The three-minute clip became a sensation, and it was only a matter of time before the title character, an illegal immigrant and former Mexican Federale out for vengeance and justice, finally got his own full-length película. Starring 66-year-old Danny Trejo, the career tough guy with the bullet-ridden complexion who's played countless supporting roles and appeared in many Rodriguez productions, the expanded “Machete” offers oodles of the tongue-in-cheek, blade-in-belly excess its core audience expects, but some key things have been lost in the stretching, adequate control being one of them.