Monday, February 22, 2010

SHUTTER ISLAND

Review: Shutter Island
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

A twisty, psycho-paranoid thriller with Leonardo DiCaprio on camera and Martin Scorsese behind it, “Shutter Island” keeps you wondering which of two endings it's going to reach even as the answers are being provided. Adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from the novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”), it's the kind of convoluted mystery movie that takes great pride and delight in deceiving its audience. There are lots of movies like it, many of them prosaic and marked by foul superiority complexes (a recent example is the Hughes Brothers' “The Book of Eli”). But Scorsese doesn't simply mislead his viewers, yank out the rug, then cut and run. He fleshes out the film's twists, offering stirring, profound and thoroughly cinematic revelations, and his take on the material allows you to welcome the deception. His “Shutter Island” is what a lesser filmmaker's almost certainly wouldn't have been: a fun and focused exercise in artful manipulation.


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Monday, February 15, 2010

PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF

Review: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Chris Columbus, director of the first two “Harry Potter” installments, is back behind the camera for the inaugural run of another fantasy fiction-inspired franchise, “Percy Jackson & the Olympians,” based on the five-volume book series by Rick Riordan. The film version of the first volume, “The Lighting Thief,” has Columbus – and the rest of us – in very familiar territory. The circumstances, compadres, exploits and objectives of would-be high school hero Percy (gifted rising star Logan Lerman) all bear a striking resemblance to those of a certain boy wizard. Percy has a pitiful home life; superhuman powers he must harness and hone; enrollment in a special institution for super kids; two best friends, one male, one female; and a treacherous journey ahead of him in which he must prove his worth by saving the day. The crucial difference is the magic so prevalent in the Potterverse – even in Columbus's minor contributions – has gone missing.


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Sunday, February 7, 2010

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE

Review: From Paris with Love
1 star (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

I was shaking my aching head at the buddy-spy-action-comedy“From Paris with Love” long before the scene in which Charlie Wax, a secret something-or-other (agent? mercenary?) played by John Travolta, whips out a fast food bag on a park bench and tells his partner, James Reese, a wannabe secret something-or-other played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, that he simply can't resist a Royale with cheese. That's right, a Royale with cheese, the very quarter-pounder-en-fran├žais Travolta brought to pop-culture prominence when he gabbed about it with Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction.”

So many things are wrong with this particular scenario. First there's the deplorable fact that the makers of this movie actually think it deserves to be in the same conversation with one of the greatest American films of all time. Then there's the glaring obviousness of the last-ditch effort to resurrect Travolta's live-wire coolness, which waved “au revoir” even before the Wild Hogs and Old Dogs came into the picture. For me, the scene sealed the deal: “From Paris with Love” is a Royale fiasco.


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Monday, February 1, 2010

EDGE OF DARKNESS

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

Mel Gibson adopts a mean Boston accent in “Edge of Darkness,” a nervy fatherly revenge thriller that marks the former A-lister's first major starring role in eight years. Though at times allowing a nasally tinge to overtake some of its potency, Gibson wears the accent exceedingly well, growling out words like “dawtuh” with the kind of rugged intonations characteristic of someone who's spent many a grueling decade in Southie. More importantly, the accent allows Gibson to slip that much more inside his character (a veteran Boston police detective investigating his daughter's murder), thus allowing us to move that much further away from the Gibson we've come to know since he last graced the screen. It's what Tom Cruise should have done in “Valkyrie”: mastered the details of his filmic persona just enough so that the star is there, but the less-than-attractive extracurricular activities are far from thought.


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