Thursday, March 29, 2012


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

For all its pomp and fabulosity, Mirror Mirror is actually Tarsem Singh's most minimalistic effort, a dialed-down game board of elaborate pieces that's akin to the human chess set captained by evil Queen Clementianna (Julia Roberts). Like Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella with just a dash of Lars von Trier's Dogville, his rendering of this revisionist fairy tale is less cinematic than it is purposefully theatrical. The queen's ornately decorated, yet largely sparse bed chamber looks out to a sky that's basically a moving matte painting, and even the forest is a simple backdrop of black and white, full of nothing but snow and rocks that mirror endless birch trees. More than anything previously seen in a Tarsem film, the production design (here by frequent collaborator Tom Foden) appears obsessively placed and inorganic, with a near-palpable wariness of human contact. The visuals work because the director is knowingly embracing a new twist on his aesthetic, withholding in more ways than one for his first fairy tale that isn't chiefly aimed at adults.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Review: How to Survive a Plague
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

How to Survive a Plague teems with poignant facts and stats, but the most telling detail about this from-the-front-lines AIDS-crisis doc is that camcorders just happened to hit the market right when the disease began to spread. With video equipment available to all, 1982 marked the dawn of insta-media, and with members of the activist group ACT UP able to film their every move, their revolution wouldn't just be televised, it would be fully documented too. Such is why journalist turned filmmaker David France's epic account of this pitch-dark time is so amazingly thorough, composed of a plethora of priceless footage from the very heart of the issue. Beyond offering an aesthetic that is the '80s and early '90s, his stunning film contains scene after scene that would oft-require recreation in narrative form, showing stalwart heroes caught up in drama no script could conceivably beat


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

Dystopian revolution is at the heart of Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, which imagines a futuristic, postwar North America at the mercy of an iron-fisted empire. But deeper still is mandatory adolescent homicide, a plainspoken, horrifying bloodsport that, in the first installment especially, lays down eerie and deeply powerful stakes. For those who aren't hip to the story (or, given the incessant chatter, simply aren't hip), the titular games are an annual, televised form of punishment, wherein the scattered "districts" who once rebelled are reminded to fall in line by watching 24 of their children fight to the death until only one remains. No matter how Collins chose to develop her saga, she licked half the battle with her continually unsettling crux, which provides a firm foundation made of heady dramatic gold. The Hunger Games, whose script was co-penned by Collins, Billy Ray, and director Gary Ross, repeatedly tests the disquiet of kiddie-carnage awareness, proving its awesome influence again and again.


Review: Omar Killed Me
3 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

In Omar Killed Me, a straightforward indictment of the French justice system by actor turned director Roschdy Zem, lead star Sami Bouajila has the look of an eternally sad Sacha Baron Cohen, a tall, dark-featured man who might have been jubilant once, but will likely never laugh again. Bouajila is Omar Raddad, a real-life Moroccan-born Frenchman who, while working as a gardener in Marseilles in the mid '90s, was accused of murdering his rich employer. No sooner were the fingers pointed than Omar was shuffled off to prison. A kindred film to so many that just battled it out for Oscar, Omar Killed Me is at best a very watchable performance showcase, cementing Bouajila as a formidable and highly affecting on-screen presence. His turn is an amalgam of dogged earnestness, pitiful heartbreak, and the visual wear of a personal fight against disadvantage.


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

"If bread doesn't breathe, it gets stiff," says Madalena (Sônia Guedes), an elderly woman in the fictitious Brazilian village of Jotuombo, whose daily grind involves kneading dough and baking rolls before sunrise. She's talking to Rita (Lisa Fávero), a young photographer who happens upon the village, and indeed, before Rita's arrival, Madalena and her neighbors were living a rather airless and rigid existence. The first narrative feature from native Brazilian Julia Murat, Found Memories has all the makings of a turn-this-town-upside-down banality, its plucky drifter softening the crusty locals with her fresh breath of vitality. But Murat holds the reins on blatant convention about as tightly as she does the gaze of her static camera, which, like Rita, is most often a curious visitor of a sleepy haven forgotten by time. In this film of patient, carefully placed compositions, whose subjects leave and return instead of being followed, common metaphors are at once clearly framed and left unforced, resulting in a shrewd dance that continually tiptoes past built-in clichés.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Review: Friends with Kids
3 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

With the foul-mouthed dramedy Friends with Kids, writer/producer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt is juggling so much, it's a wonder there aren't more jokes about balls. Depending on your tastes, odds are you'll find something to like here, at least for a little while. Positioning Westfeldt as Julie, longtime best friend and neighbor of fellow Manhattanite Jason (Adam Scott), the script kicks off with a whole lot of sitcom lingo, like BFF conversation starters that are really just gun-on-the-mantle quips, bound to be recycled and fired off again later ("Death by shark or crocodile?" Julie asks during a late-night phone call). As the minutes—of which Julie is ever-conscious—tick by, the duo's banter becomes a lot of hollow, retro ping-pong, the speedy delivery and sentence-finishing apparently stylized to evoke the best of Cary Grant. And then the chit-chat veers modern, covering odds and ends presumed to be important to New Yorkers of a certain age, and including enough profanity to maintain that edgy, in-vogue R rating.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Review: Being Flynn
2 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

As a film about poverty, Being Flynn at least conveys the great field-leveling of a societal epidemic, placing newly laid-off businessmen alongside drunken, unshaved archetypes, and expressing the sad humility that's firmly tied to this very relevant problem. An adaptation of poet Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which charts the author's social work, daddy issues, and addiction problems in 1980s Boston, Being Flynn largely focuses on Nick's estranged father, Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), a typically delusional, curmudgeonly flake whose denial-laden pride is slowly chipped away as his failed-writer circumstances lead him to skid row. An apartment eviction begets sleeping in the cab that at some point paid the bills, and a car accident, in turn, begets sleeping on sidewalk vents. Soon enough, Jonathan is swallowing hard and tiptoeing into the local shelter, where Nick (Paul Dano) just happens to work. However transparent, the irrepressible grandeur of Jonathan's pathetically warped ego adds a sting of classic tragedy to his systematic downfall.


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

Nearly a year has passed since the release of Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood, and Amanda Seyfried is still crying wolf. At least that's the opinion of the drastically one-dimensional dickhead cops in Gone, who coldly dismiss Jill's (Seyfried) claims that her sister's been kidnapped, chalking it up to yet more hysterics from the crazy girl who swears she, too, was abducted a year earlier. Jill doesn't have a lick of proof, but she does have more credibility-crushing traits than a registered sex offender, including a history of mental illness, recently deceased parents, an inability to ID her supposed boogeyman, and a past stint in a psych ward that's left her on a regular pill-popping schedule. Hell, even her allegedly missing sis (Emily Wickersham) is newly on the wagon. Thus, there are countless opportunities for Detective Powers (Daniel Sunjata) and his butchy colleague Erica (Katherine Moennig) to roll their eyes and appear both negligent and inept.