Friday, April 27, 2012


Review: Sound of My Voice
3 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

In this age of dime-a-dozen mockumentaries and found-footage thrillers, the urgent phrase "We have to complete this film!" has become both eye-roller and mood-killer. For modern audiences, there aren't too many plot and protagonist propellers more tired than the moral obligation to keep shooting whatever troubling things are afoot. And so it is that Sound of My Voice arrives with a built-in drawback, hinging its infiltration of a time-traveler's cult on a young couple's filmmaking project, and devoting plenty of screen time to arguments over whether or not production should cease. Peter Aitken (Christopher Denham) is a skeptical journalist determined to expose the deception of Maggie (Brit Marling), the ailing leader of a group of L.A. basement dwellers, who claims she's journeyed back from 2054. Lorna Michaelson (Nicole Vicius), Peter's recovering-addict girlfriend, is the accomplice quick to voice trepidation when things get extra spooky.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Review: The Giant Mechanical Man
4 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

For a first-time filmmaker, Lee Kirk sure knows how to pick his establishing shots. He opens The Giant Mechanical Man, his alternative rom-com debut, with quaint stills of a gray, generic city; a collection of well-worn art supplies; and a hanging silver suit, whose precise pairing with a bowler hat plainly evokes René Magritte's The Son of Man. Giving you his movie in three nutshells, Kirk introduces an archetypal urban fantasy centered on a romantic artist, whose signature act as an anonymous curbside robot makes him a walking commentary on the lost millions devoted to a grind. So much of Kirk's triumph is in the telling—in his handling of tone, tableaux, and acting talent. A lesser director would have turned his flawed script into a giggly, spiritless romance of the week, and missed by a mile the sweet fable of broad strokes the film thankfully became.


Review: Free Samples 
1.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

If you're particularly fond of Hitchcock muse Tippi Hedren, then you're among the few who should be even slightly persuaded to sit through Free Samples, an angry indie that favors hollow ridicule over credibility. In the L.A.-set film, Hedren plays an aging bombshell not unlike herself, who keeps the TV tuned to TCM because it "seems like a reunion," and shares insights on lust and vanity like a shrewd call girl trapped in elderly skin. Hedren's brief scenes prove remarkably arresting, and her character's life tips for lead whiner Jillian (Jess Weixler) mark the only true escape from a litany of bad jokes and affected crises. Frequenting the ice cream truck that Jillian's manning as a favor to a friend, Hedren's actress, Betty, offers fascinating wisdom on everything from life stages to gay husbands, and she confides that she visits the truck because it reminds her of her childhood. But the fact that Betty prefers ski poles to a cane, and walks down the street with them in the gleam of the midday sun, is a good indication of the kind of faux quirks this movie peddles, and it's telling that even the ice cream is discussed as being creepily artificial.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Review: The Lucky One
2.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Fate plays an integral role in movies based on the works of Nicholas Sparks, not just in terms of theme, but also in the way the films are made. At this point, Sparksian romances unfold via their own preordained formula, and measures of their merits largely hinge on how well each can bend the cookie-cutter. Just as inevitably as Zac Efron's Iraq War vet mutters narration about everyone having a destiny and making the choice to follow it, Scott Hicks's The Lucky One dutifully follows a set, familiar path, taking place in a North Carolina of perpetual golden sunsets, and showcasing the very best of life according to those of Sparks's mindset—a spiritual Americana consisting of rowboats, ice cream, tire swings, faithful dogs, elbow grease, churches, and, of course, love of country.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Review: Blue Like Jazz
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

These days, narrative films about religion don't leave a lot of room for gray area. You either get checkout-line preach pieces like Kirk Cameron's Fireproof, or ultra left-wing comedies like Easy A, which defeats its own purposes by crassly bullying Christianity. Blue Like Jazz, a grassroots indie based on Donald Miller's bestseller of the same name, doesn't fall into either of these traps. Though directed and co-adapted by Steve Taylor, a former Christian singer whose previous film was the pastor-on-a-journey drama The Second Chance, the movie is malleable and curious, much like its protagonist, Don (Marhall Allman), a Southern Baptist who veers from his Texas-raised path to attend Portland's über-liberal Reed College. Blue Like Jazz charts a typical existential coming-of-age tale, yet remains atypical by being hip while also treating religion fairly.


Review: Titanic 3D
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

It's easy to be cynical when it comes to Titanic, a film that reached such dizzying heights of success and cultural prominence that, eventually, the only thing left for it to become was a punchline. Watching its two most famous and parodied moments, both of which take place on the bow of the ship, one almost feels required to snicker. But 15 years later, stretched across the big screen, Kate Winslet's "I'm flying" bit and Leonardo DiCaprio's "I'm the king of the world" declaration also feel moving and momentous, two scenes as deeply iconic as any to have played in theaters since. While recent interviews have suggested that James Cameron is interested in giving the middle finger to films and filmmakers beholden to post-converted 3D, he insists the chief motivation and benefit of Titanic 3D is to let folks witness the film theatrically, quite possibly for the first time. Seeing the result, with eyes aged a decade and a half, the project seems fully warranted, as does that lofty 3D ticket price.