Tuesday, September 18, 2012


It's been a little sleepy around these parts lately...

...and that's largely because I've been busy working elsewhere, at places that can actually line my pockets. But no worries--the blog will remain (intermittently) active, and in the meantime, you can see what I've been up to at:


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'To Rome With Love' Review

First the Woody Allen feature, and now a review of his latest. Perhaps my palate needs some sharpening, but I found much to adore in "Rome", despite its sure status as a lesser Allen effort.

Read my full review, now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

'Brave' Review

Pixar's "Brave" doesn't deserve some of the icy ink it's getting, but it isn't exactly a triumph, either. Still, those ruby red locks are a wonder to watch, and it's nice to see a rare mother-daughter tale in the animation landscape.

My full review of "Brave" is now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Woody Allen Feature

I had a blast at the press conference for "To Rome With Love," a charming film too many are dismissing as merely "minor Woody Allen." The dais included Allen, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page. Naturally, much of the conversation came back to Woody, who's a fascinating person to share a room with, to say the least.

My feature, of which I'm particularly proud, is now online at Slant Magazine. To read it, CLICK HERE.

'Rock of Ages' Review

Tom Cruise is a hoot as a steretotypical glam-rock god, and Catherine Zeta-Jones knows just how to camp up her uber-conservative character, but Adam Shankman's hectic "Rock of Ages" is otherwise an overlong slice of hectic hackery.

My full review of "Rock of Ages" is online at SouthPhillyReview.com. To read it, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dustin Lance Black Interview

Over at Slant Magazine, I talked politics and film with Dustin Lance Black, the world's youngest-looking 37-year-old, and an increasingly vital figure in gay culture.

Read the full interview HERE.

'Prometheus' Review

At long last, my most anticipated movie of the summer. Did it deliver?

My full review is now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Revisiting Hollywood Gems

Last month, I whipped a piece for South Philly Review on films that are celebrating anniversaries this year, and are worth a second (or third, or fourth) look. Among them is the great "Black Narcissus."

For the full article, CLICK HERE.

Angelina Jolie as MALEFICENT

Yes! Here's the first still of Ms. Jolie as Maleficent in Disney's new live-action film:

According to a press release that just went out, production commenced on June 13th. Here's the official release info:

     Directed by two-time Oscar®-winning production designer Robert Stromberg (“Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland”), in his directorial debut, and produced by Joe Roth, “Maleficent” is written by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and executive produced by Angelina Jolie, Don Hahn, Matt Smith and Palak Patel. Co-starring in the film are Sharlto Copley (“District 9”), Elle Fanning (“Super 8”), Sam Riley (“On the Road”), Imelda Staunton (“Vera Drake”), Miranda Richardson (“The Hours”), Juno Temple (“Atonement”) and Lesley Manville (“Secrets & Lies”). 
     This is the untold story of Disney’s most beloved villain, Maleficent, from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” The film reveals the events that hardened her heart and drove her to curse the baby, Aurora. Behind-the-scenes talent includes Academy Award®–winning cinematographer Dean Semler (“Dances with Wolves,” “In the Land of Blood and Honey”), production designer Gary Freeman (“Saving Private Ryan,” “The Bourne Supremacy”), two-time Oscar® nominated costume designer Anna B. Sheppard (“Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist”) and seven-time Academy Award–winning makeup artist Rick Baker (“Planet of the Apes,” “Men in Black”). 
    “Maleficent” is scheduled for a March 14, 2014 release in 3D.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

'The Avengers' Review

It's here. The film that definitively shattered first-weekend box-office records. Is it all it's cracked up to be?

Of course not. Haha. read my full review of "The Avengers," now online at SouthPhilly Review.com. CLICK HERE.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

'The Raven' Review

I'm sorry to say that James McTeigue's "The Raven" is a dreadful film, overwrought and over-the-top and shrill and procedural. Poor Edgar Allen Poe. And Poor John Cusack, who deserved a better vehicle and director.

Read my full review of "The Raven," now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

James Franco Interview

Far more interesting than much of what he puts on the market, James Franco is an interview subject to kill for. Timed to the release of his NYU thesis film "The Broken Tower," I give you my piece on the actor/director/author/artist, an article I'm very proud of.

CLICK HERE to read the interview over at Slant Magazine.

'The Cabin in the Woods' Review

I'm not sure "The Cabin in the Woods" is the lasting phenomenon so many people want it to be, but I know I largely had a fine time watching it. Whedon and Goddard know how to serve up a pop-geek smorgasbord.

My full review of "The Cabin in the Woods" is now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. To read it, CLICK HERE.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Willem Dafoe Interview

The Chameleon Sheds His Skin
One of the greatest character actors in the business, Willem Dafoe is riding high this season with roles in three very different, yet thematically similar, movies, two of which give him the rare opportunity to take the lead.
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Willem Dafoe
As Willem Dafoe approaches, the drumroll has already started. It's a Wednesday afternoon at Manhattan's Loews Regency Hotel, and not far from the interview suite, a big, noisy renovation project is underway. The rumbling and rattling of power tools all but shake the room. Outside the window, a massive scrim that's hanging down the length of a workman's scaffold is taken by the wind, wrapping itself around the building like a giant mesh snake. It's all so...cinematic.

“Well this is pretty wild,” Dafoe says as he eyes up the black, waving serpent. “I feel like I have to kill it.”

It's interesting that Dafoe's first impulse is one of knightly heroism. For many of today's filmgoers, this remarkably individual actor is a player of rogues, be them comic book villains (Spider-Man), seemingly demonic silent stars (Shadow of the Vampire), or duplicitous cops (The Boondock Saints). But with a staggering number of films under his belt (he'll tell you how many), Dafoe has in fact been the good guy, the bad guy, and just about every guy in between. For Martin Scorsese, he played Jesus Christ (The Last Temptation of Christ). For David Cronenberg, he played a twisted, black market video game technician (eXistenZ). For Lars von Trier, he played a gangster (Manderlay) and a one half of a deteriorating couple (Antichrist). For Pixar maestro Andrew Stanton, he voiced a hard-scaled, mentoring fish (Finding Nemo).

As Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ
Dafoe recently teamed with Stanton again for John Carter, Disney's mega-budget sci-fi spectacle that saw the actor take on his first motion-capture gig (he brings to life a green, six-limbed Martian). It's one of three movies Dafoe appears in this season. The other two are the Australian nature drama The Hunter and Abel Ferrara's intimate apocalypse tale, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, both of which cast Dafoe as the lead. In The Hunter, the 56-year-old star plays a mercenary hired to trek to Tasmania and kill a near-extinct animal. A conflicted drifter surrounded by moral and environmental stressors, the titular gunman requires the instincts and introspection Dafoe is wholly prepared to give. In 4:44, Dafoe is an extension of himself—an actor counting down our planet's last hours in an apartment with his younger artist girlfriend. Again, Dafoe is tasked to project a churning internal struggle, and again, he delivers.

For a man in his fifties, Dafoe is in remarkable shape, though he never seems aware of it. Dressed all in black, he takes a seat, kicks out one foot, stretches one arm over his head and grips it with his other hand, like he's doing a morning stretch. He slumps in his chair a bit, as if he's meeting with someone he's known for ages.

“So, let's begin,” he says.

R. Kurt Osenlund: This is a big month/year/season for you. You've got three movies: John Carter, The Hunter, and 4:44. Do you see a common thread among them? Because I see a planetary theme.
Willem Dafoe: You know, I'm kind of literal – I'm in all of them. The connection? You know, because I've been doing interviews, I get a little self-conscious and wonder if I'm full of shit, like I'm forcing an agenda, but they're all passion projects for the director. They're all special in how they were shot. I'd say with John Carter, it was motion capture, and the sheer scale of it was huge. On The Hunter, it was the fact that it was an Australian movie shot in Tasmania, with a director I didn't really know, but had a lot of faith in because of how he pitched it. And 4:44 was special in the way that we shot it—kind of loose, with people we knew, working with a scenario and a script in a very fluid way. So I guess they each have their specific process that's specific to them.

RKO: The Hunter and 4:44 are fundamentally human stories, but they also possess these eco-themes that seem to provide more legitimate dramatic stakes these days, seeing as audiences at large, not just select groups, are finally starting to take these issues seriously. Do you see it that way?
WD: I don't disagree with you. But as I'm approaching it, as I'm playing the characters, you can't play ideas, and you can't play situations. You play actions. So I didn't think so much about the eco themes. With 4:44, the fact that the earth is ending, and that there's some sort of disaster—that's a convention. That's really a convention so we can turn up the heat on two people in an apartment trying to find out how to live and trying to see what's important in their lives. For The Hunter, someone called it an eco-noir. So there are definitely issues and themes about ecology, and a responsibility or relationship to nature, but as I'm inhabiting the character, this is not really a concern of his. He sees it in much more human terms. When I'm working on something, I'm concentrating on the doing. The frame is so specific and so based on the doing that I don't have that kind of reflection or that kind of consciousness of the themes. I'm putting myself into a place where I'm trying to be responsive in a fictional setting, and find truthful behavior for me and for the character. I'm not thinking about what it means because I don't have to. If I think of what it means, then I start to interpret, or I start making choices that point to things. I don't want to be outside of it like that. I want to be the thing. I don't want to say what the thing is.

RKO: I think it's safe to say that you have one of the most unique and fascinating faces in film. It's led you to playing everyone from Jesus Christ to Max Schreck. Was there ever a time when you were dissuaded from pursuing acting because you didn't have a typical leading-man look?
WD: Um, depends who you talk to. [Laughs] Well...does Clark Gable have typical leading man looks? No. Nah, I don't think about that, you know? Because I never thought of acting as a career. I was lucky. I just followed situations, and people. I didn't think about what would and what wouldn't work. I was just dealing with one situation at a time.

RKO: You've made more than 60 films...
WD: Oh, more than that. More like 80.

RKO: Oh, wow. I stand corrected.
WD: Some small things, of course. But still, it's a lot. I look at the number and I think, how did that happen?

RKO: Was there ever, or is there still, a roster of roles you'd like to play?
WD: Nope. Not at all. There are some things, you know, that were fantasies that I could invest in because, for whatever reason, it'd be attractive to play certain characters. But I never know what a character is until I do it, and even then I sometimes don't know. It's really about the proposal for an adventure, a proposal for an investigation. If I know what the character is, it's finished and I'm not so attracted to it. I'm attracted to things when there's something there, something interesting, but I'm not sure exactly what it is. Inventing the character is chasing that thing and finding out what that thing is.

RKO: So it sounds like it's much more about the interior for you.
WD: I don't know. In a way, yes, in a way, no. I look at a script and I say, what is this person doing? Am I interested in doing those things? I never ask myself what they mean. Occasionally I'll say, “Am I the right guy to do this? Am I up to this?” Sometimes I'll do that. Because you want to be careful and you don't want to get this fantasy that you can do everything. There are lots of limitations, and sometimes I'm not the right guy. A couple of times I've said I'm not the right guy to the director, and he's said, “No, you're not the right guy, but I thought you were an actor, come on! I like the fact that you're not him, and I know you'll do something that will make you him. That distance right now will be fuel for you becoming him.” It's like—and this is paraphrasing, so if I fall on my face just forget it—but I love the idea Jackson Pollock had with his drip paintings. He said, “the painting's already there.” He just had to give himself to the impulse and the painting would...become. I feel like that a little bit. I don't see it before, but I have some instinct of what it could be. It's really the doing that makes it what it is.

Dafoe in The Hunter
RKO: Speaking of directors, you've pretty much always been an auteur's actor. How does that typically work at this point? Are you pursuing them or are they pursuing you?
WD: I mostly pursue them.

RKO: And, for you, how important in the process is the director?
WD: It's maybe the most important thing. Even more important than the script, because scripts have to be put on their feet. My favorite movies are not often due to the script or the literature or the psychology, but something else. It's the kind of poetry of cinema that only auteurs seem to get. And I'm really taken by this idea of attaching myself to someone who has a very personal vision. And it may not be mine. I attach myself to them and part of my job is to go toward their vision, and realize it. And that's the making of something. That's the transformation. That's the becoming that I love so much. Because you learn things along the way, and you have a little shift of perspective. So you don't quite feel like yourself. You let go of what you're holding onto as an identity and it opens you up to apply yourself to other considerations. I think an actor has to be in that state of mind. Flexible and ever-ready. And those opportunities are happening most often with people who are making personal work.

RKO: Is there anything that scares you? Because you're quite a bold actor.
WD: Well the boldness comes because I'm scared of things! I'm scared of corruption, I'm scared of boredom, I'm scared of being silly, I'm scared of being pretentious. But at the same time, I think you've got to reach, so you've got to be bold with risking to be pretentious. Because if you're too afraid of being pretentious, then you'll be safe. So yeah, I'm scared of a lot of things.

In Abel Ferarra's 4:44 Last Day on Earth
RKO: Looking at The Hunter, you shot of outdoor scenes in Tasmania. You've done some outdoor films before, like Platoon. How was this experience different?
WD: It's great, because there's no reference to another life. Nature is a partner that's stronger than you, more complicated than you, more connected than you. It's perfect. It guides you, and you play with it. The weather, for example, was a huge factor. It shapes so much, and it had a profound effect on how we made the movie and how we told the story. It's also easier to be neutral, and to start from a “zero place,” because Hollywood, filmmaking, career, banks, good food, all that stuff feels millions of miles away. You're just kind of stuck with the task at hand. So it gives you this kind of concentration you're not often afforded in this information-heavy, comfort-heavy, modern technological world. Strip that all away and there's a part of you that's kind of bare-assed and more naked with the task.

RKO: I imagine every film leaves a little piece with you. What did The Hunter and 4:44 leave with you?
WD: Well, The Hunter was a real adventure. It was a three-month period in my life where I was living in a very rural area, in Tasmania, at the edge of the world. Very remote. The making of the film is always so much stronger than the film itself. And it was quite a memorable shoot. So that's what stays with me. For 4:44, it continues, because I still see Abel, I intend to work with him some more, I have worked with him before. So, I don't know, because that's not finished yet. I feel like it's continuing.

RKO: Last question. It's the last day on Earth. What do you do?
WD: What I do in the movie, pretty much. Except I don't visit my drug dealer because I don't have one! And I never have had one, okay!? [Laughs] You know, that character could be me in another life. I mean, it's Abel's idea, but I collaborated on some of the activities, and I think it's pretty practical and pretty understandable that we'd all pretty much do the same thing. And that is, try to find some pleasure, try to find some solace. I think there's a tendency to wrap up and say your goodbyes to people. Make amends. Try to cleanse yourself. Because you're going away. You clean up and you get your house in order. It's a weird impulse, but I think it's pretty human. You either destroy your house or clean up your house. And that's really what it comes down to.

*This article was previously published in the April 2012 issue of ICON Magazine. It has been republished with permission.

'The Deep Blue Sea' Review

Terence Davies's beautifully melancholy rendering of Terence Ratigan's acclaimed play sees Rachel Weisz give what might be her most alluring performance, alongside fantastic rising star Tom Hiddleston. I fell hard for "The Deep Blue Sea," a lovely, intimate little film that triumphs in words, perfs, and technique.

My full review of "The Deep Blue Sea" is now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

'Bully' Conversation

Miffed by Lee Hirsch's missed-oppotunity doc "Bully," as well as the disheartening critical embrace of it, fellow critic Simon Abrams and I had convo about the film over at IndieWire's Press Play, skewering it in ways no one else seemed ready to. Call it Bully Catharsis.

To read the full conversation, CLICK HERE. For more from Simon Abrams, check out his blog, Extended Cut.

Friday, April 6, 2012

'Wrath of the Titans' Review

Yeah, it's as bad as it looks.

Read my review of "Wrath of the Titans," now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Summer Movie Sleepers article

Which films will draw box office attention away from the heavy hitters?

To find out, read my new article at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Column! 'Trailer Mix' at Press Play

I'm thrilled to say that I'm working with the guys over at Press Play, putting together a weekly column that we're calling "Trailer Mix," which digs into a new movie trailer every week.

The first installment takes a look at the earlier trailers for Ridley Scott's Prometheus, which, at the risk of sounding overexcited, can't come fast enough for this Alien fan. Please read the column, and check back each week for more! CLICK HERE.

Rebirth Cinema to Ring in Spring

For South Philly Review, I cooked up a list piece with 10 films that celebrate, or at least prominently feature, rebirth. It's an offbeat filmic approach to ushering in the spring season.

*Photo collage courtesy of SouthPhillyReview.com.
Check out my article on Rebirth Cinema, now online at South Philly Review.com. CLICK HERE.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Elizabeth Olsen Interview

Elizabeth Olsen is so pretty. And so damned talented. Meeting her in person, and having those two attributes collide, makes one feel a bit off-kilter. And also thrilled.

Read my piece on Elizabeth Olsen, whom I adore, now online at Slant Magazine. CLICK HERE.

'Silent House' Review

This horror remake is quite a taut and scary ride...until everything falls apart.

Read my full review of "Silent House," now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

'The Lorax' Review

I truly adored Illumination Entertainment's rendition of Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax," easily the best film adaptation yet of the timeless author's work.

The review is now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

New List Feature at The House: '15 Famous'

I hope you'll check out the new feature I've introduced at Slant Magazine's The House Next Door: Unofficially, we're calling it "15 Famous." Each week, I compile a list of 15 Famous filmic things themed around a new movie in release.

So far, we've had:


Paul Dano Interview

It was my pleasure to speak with Paul Dano, whose career as a young, thinking man's actor has intrigued me for some time. It was also fun to, for a change, sit down with a talent who's my age. I didn't care for Dano's latest film, "Being Flynn," but he offered an expectedly pleasant chat.

The full interview is now online at Slant Magazine. To read it, CLICK HERE.

Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Picture

Ha! The Oscars were nearly a week ago, and now I'm posting my Best Picture article? Sadly, yes. I have to admit, this blog is grossly neglected, and has become a bit of a liability amid so many other paid and high-profile responsibilities. But it's important to keep my work at one central hub.

(Photo collage courtesy of SouthPhillyReview.com)

So, behold my Best Picture roundup at South Philly Review. How'd I do? CLICK HERE. And please be sure to check out the category-by-category predictions we did over at Slant's The House Next Door. What a fun undertaking. CLICK HERE.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

'Dueling Steeds: War Horse on Stage and Screen'

The epic story, originated in a 30-year-old novel, can now be seen on Broadway and at the movies. But which spectacle comes out on top?
By R. Kurt Osenlund

THE LIGHTS COME UP. The audience claps. Couples take turns brain- and nit-picking before returning home to relieve the babysitter. In the end, the experiences of film and theater aren’t all that different, and crowd-pleasers have a way of stirring up cheers no matter the medium. But how often is it that such a work is available in two arenas at once? War Horse, which began as a novel in 1982 before being adapted for the London stage in 2007, can be seen, right now, both on Broadway and in movie theaters, as the stateside theatrical production continues alongside the re- lease of Steven Spielberg’s big-screen translation. The re- cipient of five 2011 Tony Awards, including Best Play, Broadway’s War Horse sets the bar high, boasting strong prestige and near-unanimous viewer approval. Spielberg’s take, an old-school, broad-canvas picture that deliberately nods to the days of John Ford and Technicolor, pulls out all the stops and formal guns so as to match the play’s majesty. But does it succeed? Which incarnation of Michael Morpur- go’s book is more deserving of your claps and car-ride con- versations?

Really, it comes down to what moves you, and what sort of implementation of craft leaves your mouth agape in wonder. Directed, in its current version, by Tony winners Marianne Elliot and Tom Morris, with scenic, lighting, and sound design by Tony winners Rae Smith, Paule Constable, and Christopher Shutt, respectively, the play most certainly has innovation on its side, parlaying a classic yet dusty story into a stunning showcase of remarkable stage tech- niques. As many already know, the horses in the production, like Joey, the central stallion who gallops his way through World War I after being taken by the military from best pal Albert, are man-operated puppets, contraptions of wood and leather conceived by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones’s Handspring Puppet Company. Though the puppets have a very homespun, nuts-and-bolts look, and clearly take at least some inspiration from the anthropomorphic costumes in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King, they appear utterly inven- tive on stage, wielded by patient perfectionists who expertly instill soul with tail flicks, ear flutters, and subtle, believ- able equine sounds. They are part of an overall design that’s extraordinary for its blend of traditionalistic elements and chic, modern minimalism.

Without ever appearing on-the-nose or literal as some- thing ripped from the pages of history, the stage’s backdrop is a giant strip of torn paper, a rough-edged projection screen that intermittently bears charcoal-etched landscapes, the date and setting, and iconic animations (Eadweard Muy- bridge’s Horse in Motion is shrewdly evoked). The stage it- self is often dressed with the scarcest of props and other mechanical animals, like a wheel-mounted duck that makes for an excellent running gag. The biggest wow factor lies in the expert depiction of battle and spectacle, a streamlined, brilliant barrage of hand-tooled action that elicits childlike amazement. To simulate a horse-mounted soldier getting shot, stage hands rush in through the crowd with an over- sized, screw-like bullet on a stick, which strikes the actor before he’s carried off in simulated slow motion. At a mo- ment as arresting as anything you’re likely to see on stage, a tank emerges from behind the curtain line, its menacing arts-and-crafts look suggesting the world’s most formidable papier-mâché project. The most memorable and striking thing about the War Horse play is that it has the ardent au- dacity to get in a viewer’s space, its deftly calibrated ele- ments surging out to the edge of its circular stage, and beyond. Figures rush through at scene breaks and criss-cross the floor with barbed wire. Actors line the aisles with pen- nant strings. This is a show whose viewer involvement hardly stops at the emotional.

And then there is the cinematic interpretation, which is currently lighting up screens across the globe and trotting along the Oscar campaign trail. Spielberg lovers will delight in what the maestro has to offer here, reveling in all the aes- thetic trademarks that have come to define His Blockbuster- ness. Duly accounted for is the heavenly backlighting, as well as that unmistakable Spielberg gaze―a character’s face in glorious close-up as he marvels at something breath- taking (in this case, naturally, it’s a certain astonishing steed). Such an expression, as always, is what Spielberg hopes will be a reflection of his viewers, an in-text dupli- cate of magnificent awe. There are times when the War Horse film absolutely warrants this, as its epic action set pieces are easily last year’s finest. Janusz Kamiński, the cinematographer who’s shot every Spielberg film since Schindler’s List, offers up one magical vista after another, most notably the angelic emergence of soldiers from a wheat field (soldiers who, ironically, are about to unleash hell), and Joey’s climactic dash across ravaged battlefields, a sight that ranks among the more rousing to emerge from recent popular films.

Spielberg opens up the story to a whole new world of wide-angle grandeur, and his technical muscle-flexing pro- vides a certain sweep the stage show inherently can’t. But whereas the play partners novelty with convention, the film is wholeheartedly old-fashioned, often cripplingly so. You’d be hard-pressed to find a current film more worthy of the- atrical presentation, but you’d be harder-pressed to find one more doggedly unoriginal, trumping youthful wonderment with a regressive disregard of roughly 60 years of film nar- rative. The heightened awareness of horse slaughter in ar- chaic warfare remains intact, but Spielberg otherwise pilots a redundant story to a saccharine finale, which he paints in all the fiery, preposterous hues of Scarlett O’Hara’s day- dreams. There’s no question that it was the director’s intent to concoct a throwback effort, a family film untarnished by contemporary grit and cynicism. But that can’t help his movie’s lack of satisfaction, nor can the masterful handi- work of collaborators like Kamiński (also on board and on point are editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams, both Spielberg regulars). The overwhelming adherence to picturesque tradition starts to suffocate the heart of the tale, and Spielberg’s devotion to faces in particular hampers the poignancy of the boy-and-his-pet bond (newcomer Jeremy Irvine is far more handsome than he is diligent or affecting). All the gleaming, formal sap in the world can’t outshine lat- ter-day realness.

There is something to be said for Spielberg’s commit- ment to his visions, and no one can call his War Horse a poorly-made film. But at the end of the day, when the ap- plause has settled and the chatter has stopped and the babysitter has gone home, one simple surprise remains: a puppet, transparently and primitively manipulated by actors, has the power to draw out more gasps, cheers and genuine sobs than an actual, wondrous animal, photographed in flesh and blood.

*This article was previously published in the February 2012 issue of ICON Magazine. It has been republished with permission.

Oscar Predictions: Acting and Directing

For South Philly Review, I'm predicting the winners in Oscar's Acting and Directing categories. Some of these races are sewn up as tight as a corset, while others will be neck-in-neck right up to the big night.

Next week I'll take a closer look at the Best Picture lineup, but for now, see who I chose to take home the other major stauettes. It's all online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

*And please, do check out the great work we've been doing over at The House Next Door, predicting the winners in every single Oscar category. I'm happy to be pitching in alongsode Ed Gonzalez and Eric Henderson, whose punchy commentary is some of the best on the internet. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts Review

This week I served up a twist for South Philly Review, critiquing the five films nominated for Oscar's Live Action Short category. My runaway favorite is Norway's "Tuba Atlantic" (below), but it's not the candidate I expect to claim the prize.

Read more about "Tuba" and the other four shorts in contention in my special-edition review, now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

'Oscar Symposium' at The Film Experience

I was absolutely thrilled to take part in Nathaniel Rogers's Oscar Symposium this year. What a treat! I chatted with Nat, Mark Harris, Nick Davis, and Ali Arikan -- distinguished and hugely insightful gentlemen all.

The chat went on for three days, and you can get each installment over at The Film Experience:


'The Innkeepers' Review

Ti West's haunted hotel beauty "The Innkeepers" is a film that helps to restore faith in the modern horror genre. It is not, however, above reproach, as its lean non-narrative feels like an unwarranted tease.

Get my full review of the film, now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

'The Grey' Review

This is not the kind of movie I expect to catch in January. Liam Neeson's survivalist vehicle "The Grey" is potent stuff, supremely well-built and predominantly immune to the nagging trappings of the genre.

It's way worth your attendance and attention. Read my full review, now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oscar 2012: Nomination Predictions

This year, my official Oscar nomination predictions (in select categories) have been published over at Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, where I've been giddily serving as Managing Editor since October. I wish I could tell you I feel rock-solid about all my predictions, but alas, 2011 is the freaking craziest year ever for the Oscars. Nonetheless, a lot of passion and punditry went into these posts, and I should hope they all make for fun reads. Below are links to the categories I covered. While over there, I suggest you poke around and take a peek at the fields assessed by my colleague, Eric Henderson. Man knows his stuff, and can turn a helluva snarky phrase:


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Steven Soderbergh Interview

For Slant Magazine, I chatted with poised-to-retire experimentalist Steven Soderbergh about Haywire and Contagion, as well as horses and books and cereal and male strippers.

For the complete interview, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Golden Globe Predictions 2012

For South Philly Review, I've predicted the winners of tomorrow night's Golden Globe Awards, all so you don't have to. Will it be Davis or Streep? Clooney or Pitt? Dujardin or Gosling? Okay, the last one isn't a contest, but humor the pairing anyway.

For complete predictions in all the film categories, CLICK HERE.

'Carnage' Review

Insults. Accusations. Cobbler. Vomit. Art Books. Blackberry. Exposed Nerves. Hamster. Stick. Liquor. Pharmaceuticals. And many, many camera angles.

Read my review of "Carnage," now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Girl with the Opening Credits

The opening credit sequence from David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is now available online. God help me, I like it:

'In the Land of Blood and Honey' Review

I already shared my interview piece on Angelina Jolie last month, but now I'm properly reviewing her film, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," which I was more keen on than most, and placed among my honorable mentions for 2011.

The review is now online at SouthPhillyReview.com. To read it, CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 2, 2012

For Your Consideration: An Ideal Oscar Slate

*This article was previously published in the January 2011 issue of ICON Magazine. It has been republished with permission.

The Oscars are coming! And though there will be plenty of terrific nominees, there are bound to be some who don't deserve to sit at the big kids' table (that means you, Glenn Close). The Oscars need an ideal ballot, packed with films and performances that truly packed a wallop. Herewith is that ballot, primed and ready for Academy consideration: (* indicates winner)

By R. Kurt Osenlund


Jessica Chastain, The Debt
One certainly had his fair share of great Jessica Chastain performances to choose from this year, which could quite easily be dubbed The Year of Jessica Chastain. Can anyone remember another recent instance when a superb actor blew up so rapidly and so completely? In 2011, Chastain appeared in The Help, The Tree of Life, Coriolanus, Take Shelter, and The Debt, gracing each with a level of thespian artistry that left scads of filmgoers asking, “Who IS that girl?” While her bubbly contribution to The Help ranks a close second, Chastain's work in The Debt takes top placement, if only because the 30-year-old redhead so vividly outshines everything around her. Playing a spy who's after a Nazi war criminal, she's got beauty, instincts, and steely conviction to burn.

Viola Davis, The Help
Though being campaigned for lead actress, Viola Davis in fact turns in a supporting performance in The Help, and winds up supporting the whole film with her surprisingly nuanced dimension. Playing a maid whose scarred history prompts her to help a plucky white journo pen a book about maids' experiences, Davis deeply enriches the popular story with her believably world-weary face, giving her character a palpable past not so much with words, but expressions. It's the kind of insightful work that allowed this goes-down-easy movie to transcend accusations of backhanded racism.

*Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia
Kirsten Dunst's fine turn in Lars von Trier's Melancholia may be the one netting all the good ink, but it's von Trier muse Charlotte Gainsbourg who truly rattles you to the bone. Playing the level-headed sister to Dunst's unstable depressive, Gainsbourg becomes the character who loses it most tragically as the world comes to an end, unforgettably crumbling into despair―as so many of us would. Down to the last blinding moment, she is searingly, devastatingly great, embodying an upstanding, “normal” woman who just cannot accept that it is, once and for all, time to go.

Carey Mulligan, Shame
Matching beat for beat Michael Fassbender's stunning performance as a sex addict, Carey Mulligan's work in Shame (as Fassbender's character's troubled, nomadic sister) introduces a whole new facet of her ever-rising star―a desperate, unglamorous side that presents a challenge for which the actress is very much game. Her heated and subtext-ridden encounters with her co-star are just as riveting as her much-discussed rendition of “New York, New York,” which she hauntingly croons in a strange, telling, and lingeringly gorgeous scene.

Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Previously known only for the ABC Family schmaltz-fest The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 20-year-old Shailene Woodley breaks out in a big way in The Descendants, playing the oldest daughter of George Clooney's distraught dad in a matter that makes you feel as though you're interrupting an actual adolescent's very real life. It's not easy for a young actor to erase every ounce of truth-crippling self-consciousness, but Woodley does it, her work as a fiery 17-year-old as authentic in its bitchery as it is in its undeniable pain. The Descendants is a film oft-distinguished by characters' private anguish, and Woodley makes that anguish feel so private it seems to be the actress's own.


Albert Brooks, Drive
Not long ago, if anyone were to have speculated what Albert Brooks's next project would be, surely very few would have thought, “an eerily ruthless Hollywood gangster who nonchalantly bleeds people dry with straight razors and butcher knives.” But there you have it, and longtime awkward comedian Brooks is so suavely fantastic in his unnerving role that it may just be the one that comes to define his later career. Villains are always more effective (which is to say terrifying) when they exert their malice with very little effort, a sly technique to match their minimal human concern. Brooks makes good on his inspired casting (which is to say he's very, very bad).

Robert Forster, The Descendants
An underrated, underused actor who never disappoints, Robert Forster, like Shailene Woodley, plays a character in The Descendants who invites only the audience to share in his emotional hurt, and Forster makes that pain terribly real and intimate. As the largely unlikable father of George Clooney's character's comatose wife, Forster is tasked to make curmudgeonly ignorance endearing, and he more than leaps the hurdle, bringing pathos to a man whose outwardly strong, but inwardly dying right along with his unrevivable daughter.

Bruce Greenwood, Meek's Cutoff
Largely hidden behind a mess of a beard and beneath a shadow-casting cowboy hat, Bruce Greenwood doesn't have much room to make an impression as the titular, tunnel-visioned tour guide of Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff. So it's something of a small miracle that he's able to put forth such an indelible performance, shaping a striking figure of small-minded bigotry whose role in this volumes-speaking American saga keenly implies so many of his ilk, who are making pivotal, misguided decisions to this very day.

*Rhys Ifans, Anonymous
Another funnyman given the chance to don a dramatic persona, Notting Hill star Rhys Ifans is superb in the deliciously overcooked, history-challenging costume drama Anonymous, which begs the question, “Was Shakespeare a fraud?” (call it a “Shakespiracy”). If indeed he was, the film purports that Ifans's urbane duke was the real man behind the masterpieces, a cheeky, brilliant, and privately tormented aristocrat who handed off his work to a simpleton who hoarded all the credit. While it's not a leading role, Ifans proves immensely capable of carrying a film, bringing a kind of metrosexual sophistication to an individual of inherent interest. The film is silly, but he's seriously first-rate.

Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
For director David Cronenberg, Viggo Mortensen has played a killer without a past (A History of Violence) and a fearsome Russian gangster (Eastern Promises). In Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, he takes on Sigmund Freud, of all people, and instills in the psychology godfather a sense of dry humor nearly as strong as his sense of personal motivations. Never better at disappearing into a character, Mortensen gives what could deservedly be called the definitive Freud performance. He owns every seasoned observation, every contemplative puff of that omnipresent cigar.


Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy
Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy is likely the year's most beguiling enigma, a stroll-on-the-street, Tuscany-set tale featuring two people who one assumes to be strangers until they evolve to seem as though they've been a couple for years. A good deal of the film's mystery is emitted from Juliette Binoche's incredible face, which is often looking directly at the camera as it shifts through a plethora of emotions (not to mention multiple languages). Becoming deeply enveloped in poignant exchanges with this man, whose rapport with her may just be an elaborate bit of playacting, Binoche's character feels strikingly genuine, and the actress lets you happily take part in the illusion.

*Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur
The most revelatory performance of 2011 came from comedienne (!) Olivia Colman, whose wrenching turn as a religious shopkeeper in Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur would be gobbling up awards if more people actually saw the film. Both heartbreakingly fragile and secretly capable of fierce self-defense (a fact whose unveiling just about sends your jaw to the floor), Colman's character gradually takes center stage in a movie ostensibly about a man, and to say the actress steals the show doesn't even scratch the surface of her impact. Playing the perpetually bruised slave of an abusive husband, her desperate, climactic breakdown is the year's single greatest actorly moment.

Yoon Jeong-hee, Poetry
In Poetry, a 66-year-old woman takes control of her life at a point when most would lose it: the moment she's diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Gracefully and beautifully, she begins to champion the values of vitality and justice, and Yoon Jeong-hee, in her first role since 1994, very quietly steals your heart away in her empathetic, understated approach to the character. As a part of a class in which she tries to challenge herself creatively, poetry becomes the woman's tool to access the depths of feeling she'd previous left uncultivated, and it only makes sense that Jeong-hee's work is highly poetic, too.

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
With her work in The Iron Lady, one of many films this year to be little more than a vessel for a powerhouse performance (see below), Meryl Streep all but grabs you by the shirt collar and pulls you at the screen. As Margaret Thatcher, the Oscar queen unleashes the fury and the sensitivity, too, fearlessly conveying what's made so many regard Thatcher as an irredeemable monster, and just as grippingly endowing her with admirable strength of character. What lingers is Streep's capacity of convincing you of just about anything, a skill that reflects the scary breadth of not just one unflagging woman, but conservative politicians at large.

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
That irresistible shimmy. That infectious, familiar giggle. Those little-girl-lost eyes. Few things induced more movie bliss this year than Michelle Williams's interpretation of Marilyn Monroe, a performance that creates as much a sense of discovery as it does nostalgia. Playing three versions of the same woman (private, downward-spiral Marilyn; public sexpot Marilyn; struggling-actor Marilyn performing in The Prince and the Showgirl), Williams uses her unendingly exciting talents to build an entire complex persona, who may be one of the most famous movie stars in history, but, thanks to one of the current best, is rendered only human.


*Michael Fassbender, Shame
What Michael Fassbender brings to Shame certainly isn't on the page. He injects his sex addict with an astounding supply of brewing disgust, insatiable desire, repressed rage, and crushing, accumulating despair. Where did it all come from? It's amazing to watch if just for how completely it carries the material onto another lofty plane, a plane somewhere out in actor-lovers' heaven. The work is gaining press for Fassbender's ample full-frontal nudity, but that's hardly where the courage of this performance lies. It's the actor's willingness to take a swan dive into every last ugly trait of an addict that leaves you feeling spent.

Hamish Linklater, The Future
Certainly the least talked-about performance on this list, Hamish Linklater's work in Miranda July's The Future is nonetheless exemplary, an affectingly intuitive expression of July's unique writing, and a true, yet idiosyncratic, take on thirtysomething uncertainty. One half of a couple who, in choosing to adopt a cat, proceed to face every fear they've ever had of turning the page, Linklater's good-natured character becomes a suitable avatar for any man even close to his age, and his arduous tog of war with the moon (yes, the moon) is one of the great struggles of 2011 cinema.

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
In tackling the iconic role of super-sleuth George Smiley, Gary Oldman wisely chose to play it extraordinarily cool, and in doing so has crafted one of the very best performances of his lengthy career. Through long stretches of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the grayed, bespectacled actor does not speak, merely hovering around each scene like a well-dressed watchdog. But when he does offer dialogue, you most surely listen, to that singular accent, that rich articulation, and that thrilling commitment to character that's always been present in his work. At least two of Oldmans's scenes boast bits of the year's most unforgettable acting greatness, one of which sees him peer right out at you in an unbroken, unshakable monologue.

Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Brad Pitt has never been better than he is in Moneyball, and that's no hyperbole. As one of the great heartthrobs of our time, Pitt, like many such stars, has had to struggle to ditch the pretty-boy image and dig into a character's skin. With visible wrinkles and a near-complete dismissal of vanity, he finally clinches his goal as Oakland A's coach Billy Beane, a man whose skin he wears so comfortably, one can't help but smile at the effortless transformation. That said, this is far from just a skin-deep portrayal, as Pitt taps directly into what makes this man tick―his demons, his hopes, his drive, and most importantly, his flaws.

Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
There is perhaps no other working actor better at playing mentally-plagued characters than Michael Shannon, who tops a list of lauded turns in films like Bug and Revolutionary Road with his work in Take Shelter, an ambiguously apocalyptic drama that casts him as a man whose biblical-plague visions begin to dismantle his life. Never do Shannon's tactics of portraying the unhinged feel put-on; he's always able to muster something creepily believable, and here, he pairs it with the relevant anguish of a man whose all-too-familiar paranoia about what's coming feeds a vicious cycle that threatens his livelihood. He's the mentally frayed poster boy of the new American nightmare.


Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Nearly everyone will walk out of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at least a little perplexed, as the film offers no handrail with which to guide you through its cryptic, twisty, cloak-and-dagger plot. But surely no one will be unclear about the film's absolutely impeccable craftsmanship, which favors muted colors, gorgeous compositions, and perfectly mounted sequences that occasionally culminate with throat-grabbing visual zingers (Alfredson also helmed the Swedish dazzler Let the Right One In). It's practically impossible to imagine someone offering a finer visualization of John le Carré's classic novel, as this one is a model of old-school style, editorial panache, smart suspense and cool restraint.

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Kudos to Michel Hazanavicius for valiantly pushing forward with his infectious beaut of a film, The Artist, which was most certainly met with a red light from multiple studios. His silent, black-and-white Hollywood homage is as much a current commentary as it is a romantic throwback, taking on the subject of technology's merciless march in about as dreamy a way as one could imagine. The film unfolds delightfully, gaining momentum and universal appeal with each new charming sequence, and the humor is in perfect step with the knowing drama, which finds gravity in both intimacy and relevance. However transparently a crowd-pleaser, The Artist is highly unique―and utterly lovable.

Miranda July, The Future
No one working in film today has a vision for quirk like Miranda July, whose weird ways are always tied to a very real emotion, rather than a cheap attempt at random, look-at-me coolness. With The Future, a clearly personal project that serves as the natural follow-up to her inimitable debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, July contemplates the mid-30s plight of...nearing 40, and in effect constructs a highly individual, yet very universal, tale that explores the resonant fear of what's to come and the meaning of strong relationships. In a way, it's an art-installation version of The Big Chill, warmed up for the young and modern culturati.

Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
No filmmaker this year showed more complete, down-to-the-last detail control of his production than Nicolas Winding Refn, whose crazy-tacky-cool thriller Drive has its director's signature on everything, right down to the hotel wallpaper. The setpieces, camerawork, editing, pacing, polish, sound, and tone of this film are all immaculate, a feast of style that more than makes up for the film's decided lack of substance (its relative hollowness is part of the point). This movie is catnip for formalists, and it should be added to the required-viewing pile for up-and-coming filmmakers.

*Lars von Trier, Melancholia
No one can grip and shake a viewer the way Lars von Trier can. Regardless of what he feeds to the media in his second role as provocateur, the Danish master serves up art films with more shattering visceral power than many helmsmen can muster in a whole career. With his masterpiece Melancholia, von Trier channels his much-ballyhooed depression into a soul-scouring meditation on the end of the world, which, as a process as steadily invasive as personal melancholy, is rendered with spectacular, fall-to-your-knees awe. His worldview may not be the sunniest, but his ability to scan and exploit the dark corners of man's condition make him an unexpected humanist.


The Artist
A silent valentine to cinema that's hilarious and romantic, and doubles as an industry barometer.

The Descendants
A wonderfully intimate look at family and grief that boasts one of the year's best scripts.

A small masterpiece of craft that features a modern-day hero hidden beneath a shield of apathy.

The Future
An artful meditation on young aging, monogamy, success, existentialism, romance and cats.

Meek's Cutoff
A stark and brilliant western whose expansive canvas holds unspoken insights on race, gender, politics, maybe even the whole of American history.

The jewel in a year apocalyptic tales, which almost convinces you that, sometimes, when things spin so far out of control, it's better to just wipe the slate clean.

A heartbreaking tale of taking control of one's destiny at any age, and finding artistic inspiration in doing what's right―for oneself and others.

A Separation
An astonishingly tight tale of inflammatory relationships, whose micro focus holds great macro implications, depicting the massive ripple effect of poor choices and the dehumanization of societal rules.

Take Shelter
As potent a socio-economic allegory as any in recent memory, the film thrives on both ambiguity and plainspoken drama, centering on a man living in a world where nothing, and everything, is wrong.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A beautifully made spy thriller if ever there was one, and the cleverest of two in-vogue subgenres: the corporate thriller and the home-invasion nail-biter.

To check out last year's picks, CLICK HERE.