The Good Life

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Star to Watch

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent


Ever since she landed a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Pedro Almodovar's sumptuous Spanish-language hit, "Volver," in 2006, Cruz has finally been earning the respect she deserves in Hollywood. Formerly a side player in films like Ted Demme's "Blow" and Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky," the exotic actress is now commanding the screen in passionate pictures that allow her talent, not just her beauty, to shine through.

This year, Cruz is featured in two films, both of which are earning rave reviews, especially for her involvement.


As Javier Bardem's crazed ex-wife, Maria Elena, Cruz steals Woody Allen's new romantic comedy, which also stars Scarlett Johannson, Rebecca Hall (who's also stellar), and Patricia Clarkson. Though she's not introduced until an entire hour has gone by in the movie, once Cruz appears, you can't take your eyes off her. Oscar pundits and critics are already predicting a second career nomination for Cruz's performance, this time in the Supporting Actress category. I second that.

ELEGY (now in theaters)

Directed by Isabel Coixet, who impressed audiences last year with her contribution to the collaborative valentine "Paris Je T'aime," "Elegy" is based on Philip Roth's novel "The Dying Animal" and casts Cruz as Consuela Castillo, a young woman who begins a heated relationship with an aged college professor, played by Ben Kingsley. This pair is the centerpiece, dressed with a star-studded supporting cast, including Clarkson (again), Peter Sarsgaard, and Dennis Hopper.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Trailer Park

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

Behold -- some of the newest trailers of some of the most exciting films in the pipe.

Atmospheric master Ridely Scott follows up last year's underrated "American Gangster" with this timely spy and terrorist thriller starring the powerful team of frequent Scott collaborator Russell Crowe and ever-growing talent Leonardo DiCaprio.

Ed Harris, who previously helmed and starred in the artist biopic "Pollock," gets back in the, um, saddle again, directing and starring in this gritty new western, co-starring Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons and Renee Zellwegger.

Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Toby Jones, Ioan Gruffud and many others star as today's world leaders and U.S. cabinet members in this controversial, fact-based parody of the life of our current president from controversial director Oliver Stone.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

DVD Spotlight: August 14-21

By R. Kurt Osenlund, correspondent and film critic

Too busy to head out to your local multiplex and drop $10 to watch the Joker upstage Batman (in "The Dark Knight") or Robert Downey Jr. do blackface (in "Tropic Thunder")? While I highly recommend the former, not to worry. Some of the best films to come out in 2008 are now on DVD and you can enjoy them at home for half the price of a theatrical ticket.

BE KIND REWIND (now available)

Jack Black and Mos Def star in fanciful director Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind")'s whimsical, throwback comedy about a pair of buddies who unwittingly erase every tape in in one of New Jersey's last VHS-only video stores and replace them with guerilla-style versions they made themselves. When their fun, new creations become a hit in their community, it draws much-needed attention to the soon-to-be-defunct business, giving its owner (Danny Glover) a chance to revive it. Tailor-made for film buffs (esp. those who remember the days of videocassettes fondly) and offering an unexpected message of the unifying power cinematic art, "Rewind" is highly enjoyable entertainment, no matter the format.

IN BRUGES (now available)

Although Bruges (pronounced "brooj"), Belgium is the butt of most of the jokes in this gritty, inventive buddy yarn from Martin McDonagh ("Six Shooter"), the majestic tourist spot makes for excellent atmospere and proves a nice contrast to the whiz of bullets and f-bombs that fly through the film. Collin Farrell gives his best performance to date as a tormented hitman repenting the murder of a child and also being targeted himself. Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes costar as Farrell's character's artsy partner and maniacally hilarious boss, respectively. But the titualr location is the star of the movie and will likely cause many viewers to dial up their travel agents.

SMART PEOPLE (now available)

A movie made for and by its title, "Smart People" is a witty dramatic comedy that benefits much from its perfectly cast, talented lead stars. Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page ("Juno"), and Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways") get into the skin of four characters who, despite their intelligence, have a lot to learn about themselves and each other. Page and Haden Church follow their recent Oscar nominations with similarly dynamite work, Quaid plays to his strengths as a disgruntled and world-weary college professor, and Parker proves why she's one of the few American actresses whose brains match her beauty. Though it received lukewarm reviews during its theatrical run,"Smart People" has hardly a single bad moment and deserves to find new life on DVD.

THE COUNTERFEITERS (now available)
Winner of the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this morality tale, a true account of a 1936 Nazi counterfeit operation ("the largest in history"), is directed by Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitsky and stars Karl Markovics, August Diehl, and Devid Striesow. A clever, conspiratory thriller set around WWII concentration camps, "The Counterfeiters" is at once an engaging history lesson and a welcome respite from summer blockbuster bombast.

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