Monday, January 31, 2011


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

The latest in a long line of low-rent “Exorcist” also-rans, “The Rite” is a movie that's basically worthless without being glaringly awful. It's made with serviceable technical skill and it refrains from freely insulting viewer intelligence, but I'll admit that, not long before this writing, I'd completely forgotten I'd seen it. It's based on a true story, natch, which was previously documented in a book of the same name by Matt Baglio, who tracked the activities of an American-born exorcist working in Rome. The title is a double entendre: this is a tale not only of the rituals of demon extraction, but of a young man's rite of passage from a faithless priest to a God-loving vanquisher of evil. But hell if you'll give a hoot about any of that. The only thing that leaves a dent is a crazy-kooky-scary-funny performance from Anthony Hopkins, who proves he can still sustain a career with yet more variations on Hannibal Lecter.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Review: The Way Back
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Conventional wisdom says a movie like “The Way Back” is a must-see before anyone's even seen it. The wartime setting and majestic scenery are the stuff that sweeping epics are made of. The ensemble cast includes a respected veteran (Ed Harris), a sexy household name (Colin Farrell) and two budding stars (Jim Sturgess and Saorsie Ronan) known for their interesting career choices. The story – based on true events, of course – is brought to life by a prestigious filmmaker (Peter Weir) whose last film (2003's “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) netted Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. “Done deal,” the choosy moviegoer chirps as he plans his evening.

But the choosy moviegoer forgets that conventional wisdom is fallible, and in this particular case, his done deal is in many ways a raw one. Charting one resilient group's 4,000-mile march to freedom, “The Way Back” is indeed epic in scope, but the all-important sweep is missing. And while the actors offer rather fine performances, they still can't get us close to their unreachable characters. Well-played and well-presented as it is, this is a seriously drawn-out journey I can't comfortably recommend to anyone.

Monday, January 17, 2011


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

Let me say first that I consider Sofia Coppola a vital filmmaking voice, and her 2003 triumph “Lost in Translation” one of the very best films of the last decade. An unequivocal companion piece to “Translation,” her latest effort, “Somewhere,” shows the writer/director is consistent in the themes she explores, but inconsistent in her artistic success. Just about everything we know of Coppola's talent is on display in this, her fourth feature, yet nearly all of it has been siginificantly downgraded. “Somewhere” is a baselessly showy, hollowly artsy and frequently boring sit, and worse yet, it never musters the soul, subtlety or sexy humanity of its masterful cousin. As strictly an addition to Coppola's filmography, it's an interesting specimen to dissect, but it's for curious cinephiles only, and even they may dismiss it as rubbish.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Review: Country Strong
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

I highly recommend the soundtrack to “Country Strong,” even to those who aren't down with country. It's packed with catchy, radio-ready tracks, and it provides the special thrill of discovering that familiar actors can actually hit notes. We all knew Gwyneth Paltrow could sing (if not from “Glee,” then from her underrated 2000 dramedy “Duets”), but who'da thought Garrett Hedlund (“Troy,” “Tron: Legacy”) could carry such a pleasant, natural tune? Or, for that matter, Leighton Meester – the “Gossip Girl” chick who apparently has a budding pop career? The star and the starlets solidly impress, if not rattle the opry rafters, with their vocal stylings, and Hedlund, for one, cements his previously uncertain future in Hollywood.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


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

If Juno MacGuff's baby were fathered by Benjamin Braddock, then adopted by Napoleon Dynamite, the poor kid would probably grow up to be a lot like Aura, the distinctly un-grown-up protagonist of the hip-to-be-square indie of the moment, “Tiny Furniture.” A recent college graduate with a too-cool-for-school vocabulary who's never not walking through – or slouching in, or fornicating in – a quirky environment, Aura is a pop-art portrait of Millennial malaise, a sideways-moving antiheroine who rarely meets a situation she can't talk her way out of with an overly witty phrase. To boot, she's especially unpretty, which, these days, and in this genre, gives her instant credibility – Beat Cred, if you will. Depending on your filmic tastes, an eccentric flick with a de-glammed lead who draws comparisons to three of the most T-shirt-ready personalities of popular cinema may sound like a delight or a nightmare. For me, it was a little bit of both.