The Good Life

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Star to Watch

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent


A Golden Globe-winner for his portrayal of James Dean in a 2001 made-for-TV biopic, James Franco already knows what it feels like to be at center stage. Yet 2008 will still be remembered as a "coming out" year for the 30-year-old heartthrob, who's getting more positive attention in highly acclaimed films than perhaps ever before in his decade-plus career on the big screen.

Franco is known by many as Daniel Desario on TV's "Freaks and Geeks," the cult comedy hit from funny meister Judd Apatow that bowed out after one season in 2000. Earlier this year, Franco teamed up with Apatow again for the filmmaker's smokin' hilarious comedy, "Pineapple Express." As a simple-minded, hopelessly loyal pot dealer, Franco is aces in his funniest performance yet (and one of the funniest of the year).

Next up, Franco plays Scott Smith, the love interest of America's first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), in director Gus Van Sant's biography of the San Francisco phenomenon who was assassinated in 1978. Aside from his involvement in the hugely successful "Spider-Man" franchise, "Milk" is arguably Franco's most high-profile project to date, and Van Sant is said to have inspired one helluva performance from the young star. Viewers will be given the opportunity to find out on Dec. 5, when "Milk" is released worldwide.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trailer Park

By R. Kurt Osenlund, Correspondent

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

Author Stephenie Meyer's massively succesful novel about vampire romance gets adapted to the big screen by script-writer Melissa Rosenberg (TV's "Dexter") and director Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen"). Highly anticipated by fans of Meyer's book series, the film stars Kristen Stewart ("Panic Room") and Robert Pattinson ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") as star-crossed lovers Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. In the final trailer below, peeks of the soaring cinematography by Elliot Davis give this seemingly gimmicky genre film some serious promise.

Tom Cruise returns to cinema in this Nazi drama from director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects," Apt Pupil," "X-Men"). In the fact-based film, Cruise stars as Col. Clauss von Stauffenberg, a high-ranking German officer who initiates a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler during WWII. Written by Christopher McQuarrie ("Suspects") and first-timer Nathan Alexander, the film also stars Kenneth Brannagh, Bill Nighy, Carice van Houten, and Eddie Izzard.

From director Gary Winick ("13 Going on 30") come this feisty chick-flick comedy about two soon-to-be brides who feud over the same wedding date. Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway play the best-friends-turned-rivals, both of whom want to have their dream weding at the Plaza Hotel in New York on the same day. Female film staple Candice Bergen co-stars.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

DVD Spotlight: Oct. 16 - 23

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

Want a real cinematic scare this Halloween? Instead of heading to the theater to take in the latest entry in the much-exhausted "Saw" franchise, get on the couch, turn out the lights, and peer through your trembling fingers at these bone-chilling horror films from the past.


Before he fled the country because of statutory rape accusations, director Roman Polanski delivered this deeply disturbing psychological thriller based on the novel by Ira Levin. It focuses on Rosemary (Mia Farrow), a lonely New York City housewife who's impregnated with the devil's offspring after a ritualistic encounter with a coven of witches who live in her building. With a harrowing performance by Farrow and a twisted, Oscar-winning supporting turn by Ruth Gordon, this enduring classic still has the ability to jolt an audience.


This British import, which was toned-down for American audiences, tells the terrifying tale of a group of female spelunkers who face-off against an army of blind monsters after being trapped deep below the Earth's surface. The creatures are undeniably gruesome, but this claustrophobic picture is noteworthy for savvy camerawork and the primal rage brought out in its characters. As the girls are picked off, the line denoting who the real enemy is becomes as indistinguishable as the path to exit the film's cavernous, labyrinthine setting. Props to UK writer/director Neil Marshall -- he knows just how to scare the hell out of you.


One of the few recent horror remakes that's actually well worth watching, Zack Snyder's ("300") update of George Romero's zombie cult favorite spooks and entertains in egual doses. Much of it is stylized, hip fun but the opening sequence is relentlessly creepy and has yet to meet its match. A strong cast, featuring Sarah Polley, Mekhi Pfifer, and Ving Rhames, adds to the quality of something that could have easily been a throwaway disaster, but the real standout is Snyder. He gives a highly impressive mainstream debut, one that even he hasn't been able to top. (Watch for an additional sequence that gives you a much-needed break from the ongoing horror; it uses a riff on scream band Disturbed's "Down with the Sickness" to great effect.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Star to Watch

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent


Leaving the days of "The Princess Diaries" and "Ella Enchanted" behind her, 26-year-old Anne Hathaway has emerged as a formidable Hollywood heavyweight. In 2006, she matched wits with Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," giving her the boost she needed to become a household name.

This year, Hathaway starred opposite Steve Carrell in the lukewarm adaptation of the TV comedy, "Get Smart," and proved she could hold her own in a minefield of Hollywood blockbusters. She also endured some very public personal hardships, splitting from four-year beau Raffaello Follieri in the midst of his numerous financial scandals.

She bounces back this season with an almost universally praised performance as a recovering addict fresh out of rehab in Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married." Calling the role "the most artistic experience of (her) life," Hathaway is expected to hear Oscar calling at year's end. If so, she'll likely be head-to-head with Streep yet again, this time in the Best Actress Academy Award race. (Streep should be vying for Oscar nom #15 for her role in the controversial drama, "Doubt.")

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Trailer Park

By R. Kurt Osenlund, Correspondent

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

This wacko story - about a man (Brad Pitt) who's born a wrinkled infant and ages in reverse - is given the lyrical treatment by stylistic master David Fincher. Buzz has been growing for months about Pitt's literally transformative performance, as well as expectedly solid work from co-star Cate Blanchett and "Hustle & Flow"'s Taraji P. Henson. The trailer may look humorous, but the material has apparently been handled with great seriousness and care.

Daniel Craig returns for another round as 007, in this inexplicably titled follow-up to the worldwide smash, "Casino Royale." Also back is Dame Judi Dench, stepping into the stern shoes of boss lady M once more. This chapter reportedly has Bond taking his work much more personally, following the betrayal and death of his "Royale" love interest, Vesper (Eva Green). Look for more gritty action, more scantily-clad broads, and more shaken martinis.

The latest preview for Baz Luhrmann's ("Romeo + Juliet," "Moulin Rouge!") highly anticipated Down Under saga ups the excitement level ten-fold. With sweeping shots of the countryside, aerial attacks from fighter planes, and romance galore, it looks like the epic film event of the year. With talent like Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman (a Luhrmann alum) and Hugh Jackman (like Kidman, a real-life Aussie), the acting should match the spectacle.

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