Thursday, September 29, 2011

'Restless' Review

"Restless" is a precious blah of an arty indie, and that's coming from a pretty faithful Gus Van Sant devotee (you can keep your "Elephant" and "Paranoid Park," but I deeply cherish "My Own Private Idaho" and, yes, "Milk"). Don't go thinking that "Restless" is a must simply because of who's involved. It's better left unseen.

Give me a break.
Read my full review, now online at CLICK HERE.

NYFF Coverage of 'A Dangerous Method'

My first New York Film Festival review is here! For The Film Experience, I chatted about David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," that Mortenson-Knightley-Fassbender menage a trois that's been steadily building up buzz.

To read my take, CLICK HERE.

Links: 'Mega' 'Role Models'

My most recent Cinema de Gym posts for Nathaniel Rogers's The Film Experience both covered films I'd never seen before. The first: The Paul Rudd/Seann William Scott/Jane Lynch comedy "Role Models." The second: The Will Ferrell/Brad Pitt/Not-Quite-"Despicable Me" animated flick "Megamind."

Please read on! For "Role Models," CLICK HERE. For "Megamind," CLICK HERE.

Link: Evaluating the Visuals of 'Since Otar Left'

My second piece for Keyframe, the official blog of, is an assessment of the gorgeous and meaningful compositions in Julie Bertuccelli's "Since Otar Left," a 10-year-old Cannes fave that's among the Zeitgeist Films titles newly available on the Fandor site.

Packed with stills, the piece is now available for reading and viewing. CLICK HERE.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Killer Elite' Review

I know I'm not the audience for "Killer Elite," and my fondness for action films has certainly dwindled over the years, but I remember this genre having a lot more life in it during, say, the 1990s, when every other movie I watched involved a gun or a bomb. Now, more often than not, a bomb is all we get, like this wack-ass espionage head-scrambler.

Could I borrow that gun, Mr. Statham?
Read my full review of "Killer Elite," now online at CLICK HERE.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

'Drive' Review

You can almost hear the backlash rumbling, but it doesn't make one lick of difference. This beautiful baby is easily one of the very best films of 2011.

Read my review of "Drive," now online at CLICK HERE.

Links: 'Sleeping' and 'Waiting'

Amidst settling into my new New York digs (yay!), I finally found some time to post links to my most recent Cinema de Gym columns at Nathaniel Rogers's The Film Experience. Both focusing on romantic comedies, they cover Sandra Bullock's 1990s career-booster "While You Were Sleeping," and the little-seen 2011(?) throwaway "Waiting for Forever."

For the "While You Were Sleeping" article, CLICK HERE.

For the "Waiting for Forever" article, CLICK HERE. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011


'Warrior' Review

As expected, "Warrior," a rousing, yet terribly uninspired, entry in the now-annual fight genre, has been widely embraced by critics. But, hell, even "The Fighter," another overpraised beast, had a big personality. "Warrior" has...Nick Nolte. You'd do well to swat away the hype.

Read my full review of "Warrior," now online at CLICK HERE.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Shut the Hell Up

Or, Why Lousy Theater Etiquette is My Biggest Pet Peeve.
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Odds are you caught wind of a story back in June about a woman in Austin, Tex. who was kicked out the city's Alamo Drafthouse movie theater for texting. Using her phone as a flashlight, then incessantly sending messages well after the film began, the woman (whom we'll just call Buttons) ignored repeated warnings to stop before finally getting the boot. Her retaliation is what made national headlines, even popping up on “The Ridiculist,” a segment on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 bemoaning asinine behavior. Buttons left a voicemail on the Alamo Drafthouse answering machine that was rife with curses, third-grade English and adamant defenses of her actions. Some choice excerpts:

“I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to text in your little crappy-ass theater...So excuse me for using MY phone in USA, Magnited States of America, where you are free to text in a the-a-ter...I've texted in all the other theaters in Austin, and no one ever gave a f—k about what I was doin' on my f—kin' phone...You guys, obviously, were being assh—s to me, and I'm sure that's what you do, you know, to rip people off: you take my money and then you throw me out...I will never be comin' back to your Alamo Drafthouse, or whatever; I'd rather go to a reglear theater where people are actually polite...And I'm gonna tell everyone about how sh—y you are...So thanks for making me feel like a customer...Thanks for taking my money, assh—e!”

Sadly, Buttons is no anomaly, and to be perfectly frank, if you're anything like her, you and I can't be friends. As someone who spends an average of six hours per week inside crowded theaters, and who attends out of passion but, very realistically, to make a living as well, I'm all too familiar with the sting felt by those who had to show Buttons the door, and I wholeheartedly join Cooper in hailing them as American heroes for doing it. There's no excuse for lousy theater etiquette, and the fact is, if you insist on talking above the occasional whisper, offering play-by-play commentary on the film or performance, bringing your screaming kids into the theater, laughing excessively like a goon, gossiping about bullshit that has nothing to do with the show, unloading a noisy smorgasbord of outside food, or, indeed, dicking around with your electronic device, then there is something seriously, fundamentally wrong with your manners, your social skills, your personal pride and, certainly, your intelligence level.

I've been attending advance press screenings and theater events in Philadelphia for the past four years. And, oh, do I have stories. The way it works with most of these events is, members of the press are invited alongside members of the public, who get free, first-come-first-serve passes via web sites, promotions and giveaways (they used to hand them out at my college). Many of these guests kindly appreciate the privilege, while others grossly abuse it as if they just waltzed into a frat party, a daycare center or a school cafeteria. At film screenings in particular, there are regulars who cart in plastic shopping bags loaded with goodies and god-knows-what. I've seen some people settle down with foot-long hoagies and cheesesteaks, the aroma of onions and marinara wafting through the entire space. There are countless others who have no concept or concern of plastic-wrapper noise levels, crinkling their Twizzler bags like they're the only souls in the building. A colleague of mine once asked a woman behind him to keep it down with the candy, and she proceeded to spend the next 15-odd minutes loudly rummaging through her wrappers out of spite – right up against his ear. She was eventually removed.

In my experience, the sense of selfish, it's-a-free-country entitlement among theater- and film-goers is disgusting. Aside from the fact that our gluttonous society has convinced them that they need entire meals to make it through a measly two-hour presentation (popcorn is fine; cheesesteaks are not), there's a dishearteningly rampant assumption that rudeness is within their rights wherever they go. I can't tell you how many times I've been told “No,” or “shut up,” or “f—k off” after asking folks to be quiet. One of the absolute worst noise disturbances I've ever encountered was during a showing of The Last Airbender, the M. Night Shyamalan one about little kids with magic powers. It was the worst movie of 2010 by a mile, but it still couldn't best what was happening off screen: a woman decided to bring along her infant, who was so pitifully irate about being there that his wails were deafening (naturally, they were sitting right behind me). People began to rapidly lose patience: “Get out!” “Have some respect!” But no dice. The woman stayed put, as god forbid she miss her chance to see a reviled egotist's take on a Saturday morning cartoon. The crying got progressively worse, and as my guest pointed out, the key question became whether or not someone should call child services. After what seemed like years, suited men came in to escort her out, and as she left her seat, baby in arm, every other word out of her mouth was “f—k.” The crowd went wild.

Other offenders might not be as shocking, but they can surely be just as grating. One of my favorites to bitch about is the Jabbering Commentator, an ignorant ball of insecurities who's usually a nerdy young male or a middle-aged woman. Terribly uncomfortable with silence, and thoroughly convinced that they must prove their worth by sharing constant, needless insights with their friends, these are the people who broadcast unwanted tidbits about each actor's filmography, who try to outwit and out-joke the script, who offer their opinions as the show unfolds, and who rustle up anecdotes because, like the cheesesteak guy, they simply can't wait until the lights come up. Where's a taser when you need it? Who raised these people? Even worse than the Pavlovian Gigglers (infernal, inappropriate laughter in theaters is its own essay topic), Jabbering Commentators are incredibly transparent, attempting to cope with their character defects at the expense of poor bystanders like me. Nobody cares how much you know about Daniel Craig, not even your friends. Nobody cares if you have a better punchline than Adam Sandler (chances are we all do). Nobody cares about how this precious scene with Abigail Breslin makes you feel, or if it reminds you of something you did with your niece last weekend. Put a sock in it.

This whole issue begs the question of why all these people are even in the audience in the first place. Why bother to come if the last thing you care about is the film or performance? I once attended a concert at the Mann Center where Wicked star Idina Menzel performed with a symphony orchestra. It was a pretty breathtaking show, and the seats were packed with classical buffs and theater geeks. Also present was a girl who opted to bring her dinner and her homework. After she polished off a salad and a basket of fries, she whipped out a hardback novel, attached a booklight to it, and began reading. You read right. I don't know what stopped her from booking a front-row seat, so she could easily reach out her arm and give Idina a smack on the face. It's the same with people who insist they've arrived for social hour. Somewhere along the line, theaters became mistaken for lively public activity spaces – dark rooms full of people where any chatty, half-witted Joe Schmo could simply pop in to pass his Thursday night hours. Joe forgets: there are bars for that.

Which brings us back to the Alamo Drafthouse, a place that admittedly serves beer to its customers, thus creating a looser atmosphere and somewhat inviting a little theater malfeasance. It's a mixed-message situation, to be sure, and I can't say I condone it. But isn't it a shame that a venue can't introduce a fun novelty without suffering the consequences? I'm not a total fuddy-duddy, I swear. I understand and value the fact that theater-going is a communal experience, with shared reactions and collective feelings. But, more often than not, instead of folks who can handle it, we get people like Buttons, who haven't a care in the world for anyone in the the-a-ter except themselves. Well, guess what, Missy: this is the Magnited States of America, and I actually do have the right to watch a movie in peace and quiet. You turning up with your cellphone and your offensive lack of education is like unloading a dumptruck in the middle of my workplace. I don't unload dumptrucks at your workplace, and I don't push your buttons, Buttons. So keep your dirty fingers off mine.

Postscript: The Alamo Drafthouse has since parlayed the Buttons incident into a PSA that's now played before every screening. Here it is:

*This article previously appeared in the September 2011 issue of ICON Magazine. It has been republished with permission.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reviews: 'Circumstance,' 'Higher Ground,' 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' and 'The Tree'

These reviews previously appeared in the September 2011 issue of ICON Magazine. They have been republished with permission.

2.5 stars (out of 5)

Circumstance has the right title, and that's no compliment. Rather than actually working to create true drama, this Audience Award-winning Sundance favorite, about a pair of gorgeous lesbian teens (Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy) in modern-day Iran, mopes around amidst the built-in intolerance of its setting, as if that were sufficient conflict for a compelling feature film. The result is an increasingly plodding piece of indulgent, false provocation, with handsomely shot, but emotionally flat, depictions of the couple's impossible dreams standing in for scenes of substance. Debut filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz incorporates an ominous male character (Reza Sixo Safai) to represent the oppressive government's ever-watchful eye, but his development is so spotty (addict? religious zealot? crybaby?) that the metaphor is basically for naught. Circumstance works best when stripped of its failed ambitions, and embraced as a shallow gay club film about sexual awakening. It's the sort of movie some curious Muslim girl will catch on a lonely Saturday night, taking from it the inspiration to better free her mind. And, you know, every culture needs at least one of those.

Higher Ground
3.5 stars (out of 5)

Vera Farmiga, easily one of our finest working actresses, settles into the director's chair for Higher Ground, an arthouse adaptation of This Dark World: A Story of Faith Found and Lost, Carolyn Briggs's memoir about life in a Christian commune. Pushing herself to a level of intensity no other filmmaker has perhaps had the guts to, Farmiga is stellar in front of the camera, as is her sister, Taissa, who plays her character as a teen. Behind the lens, though, the Oscar nominee lacks that same assuredness, crowding her palette with ambiguous flourishes and struggling to establish a coherent point of view. Her general message of balance and broad-mindedness is ultimately received, but her heroine, a curious progressive ostracized for her doubts, has muddled motivations and a cloudy identity (for example, her love of literature comes and goes as the script sees fit). Commendably exploratory in nature, Higher Ground is a must for anyone fascinated by the psychology of religion, but there's no getting around it: for a movie about finding one's voice, it could surely use a clearer one of its own.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
3 stars (out of 5)

A shoo-in for a visual effects Oscar nomination, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is well worth seeing if only for its CG bravado, a mesmerizing blend of expertly-directed action sequences and the cutting-edge latest in motion-capture magic (Andy Serkis handily steals the show as Caesar, the super-smart – and alarmingly soulful – Che Guevara of apes). But don't dare trust the folks who hail this excessively plot-driven, fall-of-man prequel as one of the year's best films. Virtually every scene with the primates – who revolt after serving as lab rats for brain-boosting Alzheimer's drugs – is inspired and affecting, but those with flesh-and-blood actors have all the weight of a windswept furball. Emotionally vacant to boot, stars like James Franco and Freida Pinto are helpless against a spoon-feeding script, which offers cautionary, tsk-tsk parallels too obvious to praise. It's a sign of serious ineptitude that the scale is so drastically tipped: no one needed the humans to be hollow in order to carry out the movie's mission; we'd have still rooted for the apes.

The Tree
2.5 stars (out of 5)

Everything that made writer/director Julie Bertuccelli's 2003 debut, Since Otar Left, a near-masterful revelation (the dangers of prolonged and dishonest grief, hugely meaningful compositions) are downgraded in The Tree, an Australia-set, English-language follow-up with a central metaphor so hulking you can't wait for it to topple. When Peter (Aden Young) dies from a heart attack and leaves his wife, Dawn (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and their four children to fend for themselves, daughter Simone (newcomer Morgana Davies) decides that his soul has been reincarnated in the massive fig tree that sits in the family's yard. Drought-stricken roots begin to damage the house's plumbing, and the more Dawn and company come to accept their loss, the more the tree – and nature itself – literally invades the home. You can see where this is going, but the film does not relent, and though it's beautifully made (the tree is one helluva camera subject), Bertuccelli saves precious little grace for her narrative. The highlight is Gainsbourg, who with this and Antichrist has gotten bone-deep devastation down to a kind of harrowing science.

'The Debt' Review

Your key reason to catch this movie is to witness the ever-evolving talents of one Jessica Chastain, my favorite new actress. Otherwise, you're in for a lot of vexing disengagement.

Read my full review of the espionage drama "The Debt," now online at CLICK HERE.