The Good Life

Friday, November 12, 2010

Star to Watch: SCOOT MCNAIRY

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Scoot McNairy in "Monsters"

Don't be fooled by the playful name. American actor Scoot McNairy has a dedication to independent cinema that's serious and sincere. Born in Texas, and with a background in regional theater, McNairy set out for Tinseltown with ambitions to break into the indie film scene. While chasing his goals, he took bit parts in an eclectic mix of movies, including "Wonderland," "Herbie Fully Loaded," "Art School Confidential" and "Bobby."

His indie breakout was with 2007's "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," a black-and-white New York romance that starred McNairy as the lead character, Wilson. McNairy produced "Midnight Kiss" with his friend and manager, John Pierce, with whom he started the production company The Group Films. Since then, the company has worked on "Frank and Cindy," starring Rene Russo, and "The Last Time I Made Straight A's," which has yet to be cast.

McNairy can now be seen as the male lead in "Monsters," a highly impressive British thriller that makes extraordinary use of its meager budget. Written and directed by documentarian Gareth Edwards, the film sees McNairy star alongside his real-life wife, Whitney Able, in a story that's minimalistically told to great effect, and boasts topical immigration metaphors to boot. McNairy delivers an authentic, understated performance, which was good enough to nab him a British Independent Film Award nomination for Best Actor ("Monsters" received a total of six nominations, including Best Picture).

In addition to his projects as producer, McNairy now has at least five films on the horizon in which he'll be appearing on-screen, including "The Off Hours," "Everything Will Happen Before You Die," "Angry White Man," "The Listening Party" and "A Night in the Woods." True to the actor's pursuits, every film is an independent.

Trailer for "Monsters," which opens in Philadelphia today:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The newest trailers for some of the most noteworthy upcoming flicks.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic


It's been 14 years since the original "Scream" movie became a massive self-aware sensation, lampooning other films in the horror genre and laughing all the way to the bank. I can still remember rallying a troop of friends and sneaking into the very R-rated thriller, one of my favorites. Two inferior sequels, varying levels of fame and a break-up or two later, we've got the much-awaited fourth installment, which revamps the "rules" for a new decade. Stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox return, along with Hayden Planetarium, Emma Roberts, Kieran Culkin and more. Take a look:


Nicole Kidman shoots for the awards traction she had in the early 2000s in this screen adaptation of the stage play about a couple grieving the loss of their young son. Kidman plays the mother, Aaron Eckhart plays the father, and Dianne Wiest plays Kidman's own mom, herself having dealt with the death of a son. In the director's chair is John Cameron Mitchell, the highly talented New Yorker who delivered back-to-back triumphs with "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Shortbus." "Rabbit Hole" is one of my most anticipated films yet to be released in 2010.


Jack Black is back in this modern-day retelling of Jonathan Swift's 18th century novel. Directed by Rob Letterman ("Shark Tale," "Monsters vs. Aliens") "Gulliver's" looks obnoxious as all get out, but it also seems to boast some coolly diverting funhouse efects. Starring alongside Black are Amanda Peet, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel and Billy Connolly. The film focuses on an underachieving mailroom worker (Black) who's swept away to a magical world full of action-figure-sized folk. It's set for release this Christmas.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Studio News: Ang Lee casts lead in LIFE OF PI

Oscar-winning director casts newcomer Suraj Sharma as beloved tale's young hero in the upcoming film based on the international bestseller; "Life of Pi" commences 3D photography January 2011 in India and Taiwan for a Dec. 14, 2012 release. 

Compiled by R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

FROM 20th CENTURY FOX: After a worldwide talent search, Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) has cast newcomer Suraj Sharma in the iconic title role in LIFE OF PI. Fox 2000 Pictures president Elizabeth Gabler made the announcement today. Lee, whose many other honors include an Oscar nomination for his direction of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and whose “Sense and Sensibility” was a Best Picture nominee, will shoot LIFE OF PI in 3D, utilizing groundbreaking techniques to capture the story’s epic scope. The film is based on Yann Martel’s beloved book, one of the biggest publishing events of the past decade. The book has sold over seven million copies worldwide (and continues to sell over 1,000 copies per week), won the prestigious Mann Booker Prize, and was a New York Times bestseller for over a year.

Commented Yann Martel: "I'm thrilled that Ang is adapting LIFE OF PI to film. He's a brilliant, versatile director, with a stunning visual sensibility. He can capture the most intimate emotion as well as the most dynamic action. He's the perfect filmmaker to bring Pi’s epic journey to the screen”

Since Ang Lee came aboard the project at the end of 2008, he has worked to create a singular vision of Martel’s unforgettable tale. The all-audience experiential movie event will take us through a young man’s incredible adventure – at turns thrilling and spiritual; joyous and harrowing; humorous and tragic. Audiences will follow Pi Patel as he travels from an exotic zoo in India on a voyage across the Pacific, where he survives a shipwreck and is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger as his only company. Adrift in an endess expanse of ocean, Pi struggles to survive and train his companion, landing on a magical island that offers the two their only respite on their desperate journey.

Suraj Sharma, 17, is a student who lives with his mathematician parents in Delhi, India. He has no previous acting experience and was cast following an extensive, months-long search. Over 3000 young men auditioned for the part.

LIFE OF PI begins production in January in India and Taiwan. Twentieth Century Fox releases the film December 14, 2012.
David Magee (“Finding Neverland”) adapted Martel’s book. Gil Netter (“Marley & Me,” “The Blind Side”) is producing. The director of photography is Claudio Miranda, who collaborated with David Fincher on several films, including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Miranda recently shot “Tron: Legacy” in 3D. Avy Kaufman is the casting director.

Commented Ang Lee: “It has been a daunting and exciting process to develop a motion picture that brings Yann Martel’s fascinating, mind-boggling story to the big screen. Casting the sixteen-year old Pi was particularly challenging. We searched throughout India for a young man who had the innocence to capture our attention, the depth of character to break our hearts, and the physicality needed to embody Pi on his journey.

“Suraj is Pi,” Lee continued. “During his audition, he filled the room with emotion, much of which he conveyed simply through his eyes. His natural ability to believe and stay in the world of the story is a rare treasure.”

Elizabeth Gabler stated: “It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside Ang Lee as he and his team brings this amazing film to life. We believe that LIFE OF PI, with its tremendous scope, groundbreaking visuals, and a story that embraces the triumph of the human spirit will be a cinematic event for audiences of all ages, all over the world.”

One of the world’s largest producers and distributors of motion pictures, Fox Filmed Entertainment produces, acquires and distributes motion pictures throughout the world. These motion pictures are produced or acquired by the following units of FFE: Twentieth Century Fox, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox International, and Twentieth Century Fox Animation.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Brief capsules on new movies worth renting, including two of the year's best.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Italian filmmaker Luca Gadagnino directs Tilda Swinton in this sumptuous melodrama set in the tight-knit world of a wealthy Milanese textile dynasty. Playing a Russin immigrant who's adapted to Italian life, Swinton is a multicultural marvel, broadening her range and brightening her already-gleaming resume. Using Swinton's character's primal infidelity as its earth-shaking turning point, "I Am Love" takes every opportunity to arouse your senses, and succeeds wonderfully, emerging as one the year's best movies. (Now Available)

And speaking of year's best, writer/director Debra Granik's Sundance hit "Winter's Bone" is among the finest American films you'll see this year, with a breakthrough, Oscar-worthy performance from rising star Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence plays Ree, a strong-willed teen who must seek answers in her dangerous Ozark Mountains community in order to salvage her family's livelihood. Granik's story is rich and unique, creating an enormously suspenseful sense of dread and sidestepping sentimentality while also stressing the importance of family. "Winter's Bone" is a must-see gem. (Available Oct. 26)


Worthy of being dubbed a new kids' classic, the high-flying adventure "How to Train Your Dragon" is never better than when it's evoking old school dragon flicks like "Pete's Dragon" and "The Neverending Story." Like those movies, this Nordic tale of young a Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his pet fire-breather, Toothless, has an endearing boy-and-his-dog charm, and lifts your spirits as the chummy pair take to the skies. Cliches abound, but so does the fun. (Now Available)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Art House Salad: NEVER LET ME GO

Movie Review: “Never Let Me Go”
4 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Death has bothered me greatly since childhood. I prefer not to think about it much, let alone write about it. Yet, here we are. “Never Let Me Go” is a movie about lifespan relativity – a spooky, subtly sci-fi reminder that all of us, whether we be organ donors fated to perish in our 20s or lingerers bound for 100, will reach our expiration date, or, as the film calls it, “completion.” The universal notion of having to accept this fact regardless of your circumstances or allotted time on Earth resonates long before a key character finally acknowledges it out loud, and it's what gives the otherwise dispassionate proceedings an unsentimental humanity and sense of purpose.

I'm going to keep plot details to a minimum, not so much to avoid spoilers (it's rather easy gather what's happening and what's going to happen), but to preserve the austere, yet elegant, manner in which things are explained. Movie fans will get all the gist they need when I say that “Never Let Me Go” is the highbrow, art-house answer to Michael Bay's “The Island.” Based on the highly acclaimed 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (“The Remains of the Day”), it features three principal characters, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley), who grow up together at Hailsham, an English boarding school that shelters its students in a sort of Ivy League bubble for reasons beyond their initial comprehension. As time passes, feeling and truths emerge for the lead trio, but we never really leave their microcosm; it simply expands.

The film's most haunting aspect is how willfully the characters accept their collective destiny, as they know of nothing else. With his story, Ishiguro doesn't take an explicitly supernatural approach the way another writer might have. He highlights how humans are raised to accept what they are taught, and seems to ask, when you are what you are, what else can you be? Again – relativity. Though born into what most will immediately see as a horrific situation, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, we come to realize, aren't so unlike the rest of us.

Unfortunately, although it is chiefly responsible for the film's ability to burrow under your skin, the overall passivity and somberness of the characters and tone hamper how it's received. Director Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”) finds a sophisticated, frozen-in-time aesthetic for this British drama (it's set in a nondescript, alt version of the '70s, '80s and '90s), and the three young actors each duly deliver what's asked of them, but from the muted palette to the emotional squelching, “Never Let Me Go” leaves you feeling no intense reaction beyond the inevitable identification with its mortal ponderings. And the insular world of the film, while also lending itself to the characters' eerie lack of existential objections, forbids the possibility of say, a different perspective, even the slight presence of which could have provided the kind of dramatic gut-punch that never comes. The movie tiptoes to its own inevitable completion, and it's a poetic one, but the experience feels nevertheless incomplete.

*“Never Let Me Go” is now playing at the County Theater in Doylestown.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Studio News: Emma Stone cast in new 'Spider-Man'

In the latest news regarding Sony's superhero reboot, the "Easy A" star has been cast as Gwen Stacy, the golden-locked character previously played by Bryce Dallas Howard in "Spider-Man 3."

Compiled by R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Emma Stone in "Easy A," now playing.

From Sony Pictures Entertainment: Emma Stone has been cast as the female lead in the upcoming "Spider-Man" film from Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios, it was announced today by Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and Matt Tolmach, president of Columbia Pictures. Stone has been tapped for the role of Gwen Stacy opposite Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. The film, to be directed by Marc Webb from a screenplay by James Vanderbilt and produced by Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin, will begin production in December and will be released in theaters nationwide in 3D on July 3, 2012.
The casting continues an association between Sony Pictures Entertainment and the actress, who previously starred in "Superbad," "The House Bunny," and "Zombieland," all for Columbia Pictures; she may currently be seen in Screen Gems’ hit comedy "Easy A," and takes a cameo role in Screen Gems’ upcoming "Friends with Benefits."

Commenting on the announcement, Tolmach said, “It’s been an incredible journey for us to watch Emma’s star rise as an actress. She is extraordinarily talented and has a very special on-screen spark that is perfect for this role. Given her history with the studio, casting her in one of our most important franchises is a real thrill.”

Webb added, “The chemistry between Andrew and Emma was stunning and made Emma the clear choice. At the heart of the story of Peter Parker is not only the amazing Spider-Man, but also an ordinary teenager who is wondering what he has to do to get the girl. Andrew and Emma will bring everything audiences expect to these roles, but also make them their own. Much to my surprise, it was fun to find out that our choice for Gwen (Emma) is also a natural blonde.”

Emma Stone can currently be seen starring in Screen Gems’ hit comedy "Easy A." Next year, she will star in Warner Bros.’ "Crazy, Stupid, Love" opposite Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling and in "The Help," the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel; she also takes a cameo role in Screen Gems’ "Friends with Benefits" and will voice a role in DreamWorks Animation’s comedy "The Croods." Stone’s recent credits include "Paperman," "Zombieland," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," "The House Bunny," "The Rocker," and "Superbad."

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Behold! Some of the newest trailers for some of the most noteworthy upcoming flicks.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

TRUE GRITThe Coen Brothers return with this highly anticipated remake of the 1969 John Wayne Western, based on the novel by Charles Portis. Reuniting the Coens with their "Big Lebowski" star, Jeff Bridges, and featuring supporting performances from Josh Brolin, Matt Damon and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, "Grit" arrives in December.


A big winner at this year's Toronto Film Festival, Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" stars 2009 Oscar nominee Colin Firth as King George VI, who had to overcome a stammer in order to deliver a crucial address. Heralded as a major awards contender, the royalty drama co-stars Geoffrey Rush, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter.


Another baity awards title, "The Fighter" follows in the path of "The Wrestler," with Mark Wahlberg as a professional boxer seeking a comeback. Putting his body through the wringer once again, a frail Christian Bale stars as Wahlberg's character's older brother, while a (finally!) unsweetened Amy Adams appears as the requisite love interest. I'd yawn, but "The Fighter" is helmed by David O. Russell, who's pulled great performances from Wahlberg in "Three Kings" and "I Heart Huckabees."

Friday, September 24, 2010


Brief capsules on new movies worth renting.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic


After making four films together, director Ridley Scott and his muse, Russell Crowe, reteam to retell the story of Robin Hood in the same epic style that served the pair so well in "Gladiator." Many a critic threw his arms up at "Robin Hood's" lack of adherence to the comfy tale of the merry man we all know and love, but I found this origin story to be a more-than-welcome addition to a long line of tradition-bound pictures. To boot, Scott brings his usual mastery of atmosphere, giving his film a sweep that greatly elevates the adventure and successfully distracts from Crowe's miscasting.


While it's only natural to try to compare the two, whether or not the new "Karate Kid" measures up to the beloved 80s original really doesn't matter at all. The rousing action, graceful storytelling and emotional truth of this unattractive-from-afar remake are more than enough to make it a stand-alone triumph. Throw in a star-making performance from fresh-prince-of-Hollywood Jaden Smith, who meets every demand of a very demanding role, and you've got what emerged as the best surprise of the summer.


I'll admit I haven't seen this controversial shocker, but how can anyone resist checking out something so wildly and outrageously perverse? The gist: A crazy German doctor kidnaps two female American tourists and gives them their just rewards for poking around in a foreign land (a la "Hostel") by making them two-thirds of his human centipede -- a working, living unit comprised of humans surgically fused together via their gastric systems. Grossed out? Me too. Now excuse me while I go find myself a copy. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Star to Watch: RYAN REYNOLDS

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Ryan Reynolds has made a career out of repeatedly playing a wise-ass class clown who just happens to have the body of an Olympian. It all started with 2002's "Van Wilder," a rude college comedy whose titular party boy has been evoked in so many of Reynolds' subsequent films ("Blade: Trinity," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "Waiting..."). However, newly determined to transcend that persona (and, presumably, to avoid more fowl projects like "Definitely, Maybe" or "The Amityville Horror), Mr. Scarlett Johannson is thinking big...and small.
Reynolds, 33, followed up his surprisingly thoughtful turn in last year's mega-hit "The Proposal" with a small role as a studly superhero in "Paper Man," a little-seen, but well-received, indie. The performance was a precursor to what's undoubtedly the biggest role of Reynolds's career: the lead in next summer's comic-book blockbuster "Green Lantern." (He'll also revive the comic book character he played in "Wolverine" in the spin-off "Deadpool," slated for 2012.)
In the meantime, Reynolds also has his eye on the arthouse, appearing this month in the low-budget Sundance selection "Buried." An experimental piece about a U.S. truck driver who winds up trapped in a coffin in Iraq with only a lighter and a cellphone, the film takes place almost entirely in a single tight space, and will test Reynolds's acting chops like nothing he's done before. If he nails the performance, it will introduce a whole new facet of ability, and may finally allow him to leave Van Wilder in his rearview.
First look at "Buried":

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Behold! The latest trailers for some of the most noteworthy upcoming flicks.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Not to be confused with the 1995 action flick with Cindy Crawford and Billy Baldwin (which just happens to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures), this fact-based thriller about outed CIA agent Valerie Plame stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn -- two actors of just slightly greater reverence. Directed by Doug Liman (who needs a success after "Jumper"), "Game" was vying for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and is being touted as an Oscar hopeful. The trailer is rather routine stuff, and I don't find Watts nearly as exciting as I did in the early '00s, but the other two times she and Penn teamed up, we got "21 Grams" and "The Assassination of Richard Nixon." Not a bad track record.


From French filmmaker Gaspar Noe comes this trippy, sleeper sensation, which recently played at Philadelphia's Danger After Dark Film Festival. Set in Tokyo and dubbed a "psychedelic melodrama" by the writer/director, the ultra-colorful, experimental-style film also debuted at Cannes, and, as you'll see in the trailer, it's drawing some highly impassioned reactions from major critics. Remarkably appetite-whetting, "Void," which centers on two siblings who vow to never leave each other following the death of their parents, looks like some seriously bold drug-cinema, perhaps the next "Requiem for a Dream."


Bad sign: Shot in 2006, the horror-thriller "Case 39" has been on the shelf for nearly half a decade.
Worse sign: The most press this film is generating is about the on-set coupling of stars Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper.
Hopefully, the Halloween timing will mean good things for "39," the latest from Christian Alvart ("Pandorum"). It concerns a social worker (Zellweger), who adopts an apparently abused girl (Jodelle Ferland), who's actually the one to fear, as demons follow her wherever she goes.
Worst sign: "Case 39" is the 947th movie about a creepy little girl. Did I mention I'm dreading it?

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