The Good Life

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trailer Park: Critic's Most Wanted

Check out these just-released trailers for some of my most anticipated 2009 films.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

Dir. Ang Lee
Starring Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber, Imelda Staunton, Demetry Martin and Eugene Levy.
August 14

Dir. Spike Jonze
Starring Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Mark Ruffalo and Max Records.
October 16


Dir. John Hillcoat
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Jodi Smit-McPhee and Charlize Theron
October 16


Dir. Lee Daniels
Starring Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey and Gaboure Sidibe
November 6

Dir. Rob Marshall
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson and Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson.
November 25


Dir. Guy Ritchie
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams
December 25

*BONUS: Sigourney Weaver talks "Avatar"
Listen to the actress discuss her role in "Avatar," James Cameron's top-secret, long-awaited feature follow-up to "Titanic." (December 25)

*Read more about these films in the May 28 issue of The Good Life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star to Watch


By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

If you haven't seen "Star Trek," J.J. Abrams's action-packed reboot of Gene Roddenberry's classic franchise, not only are you missing out on what may just be the movie of the summer, but you're also a stranger to one of 2009's most inspired performances thus far. Zachary Quinto, a 31-year-old TV star who was practically unknown a few years ago, was chosen for the role of the virtuous Vulcan Spock because he bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Leonard Nimoy. But watching him in action, all strong focus and and calculated control, the fortunate likeness almost immediately takes the back burner. What roars to the forefront is an immensely entertaining and intelligent star turn, one that all but confirms a long and bright future for this dynamic and dedicated actor.

Before he was donning prosthetic pointy ears and northward-darting fake eyebrows, Quinto was already winning fans as the villainous Sylar on NBC's hit drama "Heroes." The role earned him critical acclaim (and a TV Land award that he shared with his fellow cast members), but perhaps the greatest benefit Quinto's "Heroes" work reaped was a "Star Trek" casting call, wherein Abrams says that the dark-haired, dark-eyed performer simply "was" the iconic character.

Such a claim certainly registers on the screen. Quinto delivers Spock's famously intricate, geek-scientific discourse with thrilling articulation, taking ownership of every word gifted to him by savvy screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. The other actors in the film -- Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana and, rather surprisingly, "Lord of the Rings" star Karl Urban -- also aim high and score big with their performances, but Quinto is a show-stealer. He puts his own permanent stamp on Spock and makes you yearn for his return every time he leaves a scene. You can't take your eyes off this guy, and since work this good is bound to steadily increase his visibility, soon, you truly won't be able to.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Art House Salad

Dishing on the latest blend of alternative flicks being tossed around in limited release

By R. Kurt Osenlund
Film critic and correspondent

Dir. Jeremiah Zagar
HBO Documentary Films
80 min. NR

Jeremiah Zagar's "In a Dream" incorporates fanciful footage of South Philadelphia, talking-head confessionals, vintage photography, hundreds of original drawings and paintings and whimsical animation to tell the life/love story of the director's father, renowned Philadelphia mosaic muralist Isaiah Zagar, and mother, Julia Zagar. Exposing the high times and hardships of the artist (Isaiah reveals a dark history of mental illness), the couple (Jeremiah opts to document his parents' painful separation) and their family (Jeremiah's in-recovery brother, Ezekiel, also appears), the film isn't so much a family portrait, as many will call it, but a whole scrapbook of mixed media, new and old.
Jeremiah, who also co-edited, is a masterful manipulator of his medium of choice. Like his father but with a greater degree of control, he favors bold, vibrant colors and takes advantage of interesting architectural spaces. His curious cameras, deftly handled by cinematographers Erik Messerschmidt and Mark Stetz, are constantly moving through space, scanning Isaiah's indoor and outdoor creations with an affectionate, even loving gaze.
"Don't just give them eye candy," Isaiah says at one point in the movie, "give them something else to chew on." Jeremiah gives us something else, alright -- too much, perhaps. Just as Isaiah often straddles the line between fascinating eccentric visionary and plain-old weirdo (attempted self-castration in psych ward? Compelling! Handling feces and contemplating its beauty? Not!), Jeremiah continuously dances on the border of exploitation territory, showing us deeply personal moments we don't feel entitled to see. The director's daring to ask the tough questions is commendable, but it sometimes registers as an invasion of privacy for the sake of drama.
When the murals and their hard-at-work maker are are at center screen, though, one art form beautifully melds with another, and the divine synthesis frequently makes us feel as though we are -- you got it -- in a dream.
4 stars (out of 5).

Dir. Ramin Bahrani
Roadside Attractions
91 min. NR

Ramin Bahrani, that 34-year-old minimalist who won the hearts of critics with his dressed-down features "Man Push Cart" (2005) and "Chop Shop" (2007), proves himself a consistently skillful American auteur with "Goodbye Solo," a surprisingly unique friendship tale that exudes a great deal of power without the slightest hint of force.
It's rather astonishing that Souleymane Sy Savane, the actor from Africa's Ivory Coast who plays the sanguine Winston-Salem, N.C. cabbie Solo, has no previous film credits. In a performance of equal parts subtlety and vitality, Savane fleshes out a cheer-worthy modern protagonist who seems more heroic amidst his daily tasks than many Superheroes do whilst saving the world. Solo is the very antithesis of William, the crotchety white fare who pays his driver $1,000 to take him to a windy mountaintop for undisclosed reasons. William is portrayed without pretense by Red West, a weather-worn veteran with plenty of film credits (as well as a former gig as Elvis's bodyguard). Though the film's trailers may imply otherwise, don't think for a moment that Bahrani would condescend to go the white-man-in-distress-consults-the-magical-Negro-route, for "Goodbye Solo" soars beyond petty genre conventions.
Bahrani, whose fondness for smart and simplistic American character studies makes him a gritty kindred spirit to actor-turned-filmmaker Thomas McCarthy ("The Station Agent," "The Visitor"), worked with his two leads for months, allowing both men to understand both characters and cultivate their rapport. We, the audience, reap the benefits of this prep process -- Solo and William don't have a single false exchange.
The ending of "Goodbye Solo" approaches with a palpable potency, like a wave waiting to crash. Though largely unspoken, the outcome is an inevitable and predictable one; however, Bahrani is too good a storyteller to allow that to subtract from the drama. There's still a graceful mystery hanging in the air when the movie reaches its final moments, wherein we reflect on the journey we've just seen -- one of two men at opposite ends of the human experience.
4.5 stars (out of 5).


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Trailer Park

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

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

Hugh Dancy ("Evening") and Rose Byrne (FX's "Damages") star in this touching New York story from debut writer/director Max Mayer. Adam (Dancy) has the socially debilitating Asperger's Syndrome, but that won't stop him from trying to win Beth's (Byrne) heart. Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and winner of the festival's Alfred P. Sloan award, "Adam" opens July 29.

For his first film since the disappointing "Spider-Man 3," prolific genre director Sam Raimi returns to what he does best: smart horror that truly entertains. Starring Alison Lohman ("Matchstick Men") as a young woman with a wicked curse that may just send her to the underworld, "Drag Me to Hell" may not sound like much, but give this preview a whirl and you'll be convinced: this ain't your average scary thriller.

2008 Academy Award nominess Amy Adams and Meryl Streep ("Doubt") reunite for this ladies' antidote to the testosterone-fueled summer blockbusters. Directed by Nora Ephron ("Bewitched"), the empowerment comedy sees Adams's character, Julie, attempt to cook a big bundle of Julia Child's (Streep) most famous recipes and redefine herself in the process.

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