The Good Life

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Trailer Park

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

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

There are some serious problems with this preview. In roughly three minutes, it seems to reveal the entire plot of director Robert Schwentke's treatment of Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 romantic novel (about a woman who has the perfect husband, aside from the fact that he vanishes into alternate eras at the drop of a hat). Such a show-it-all approach will have many viewers thinking, "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?", but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to see what the lovely Rachel McAdams does with her role.

No gangsters. No aviators. This time out, Marty Scorsese and his new muse, Leo DiCaprio, go for primal fear with this creepy, beautiful-looking screen translation of the 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River"). DiCaprio stars as a federal marshal investigating an escaped inmate case at a secluded insane asylum. The dynamite supporting cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Max Von Sydow and Emily Mortimer.


From executive producer Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) comes this chilling, documentary-like science fiction thriller about an alien race living as refugees on Earth. Set in South Africa, the movie is the feature debut of director Neil Blomkamp, who expands his own short. The cast is comprised primarily of unknowns, facilitating the true-to-life tone. The trailer exhibits great promise, suggesting a scary, smart and subtle entry in a genre that's too often bang-you-on-the-head predictable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Star to Watch


By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

I chose this week's Star to Watch subject with a lot of hesitation. After all, what is Megan Fox but a sexy pin-up and a hot-button media target? She certainly hasn't done anything in her brief acting career to warrant the massive amount of attention she's receiving. But then I submitted: If everyone else is talking about this outspoken wild child, why shouldn't I?

The photo above is from Michael Bay's first "Transformers" film -- the movie that made Megan a mega-star. It's the only picture I'm including in this post because said blockbuster is basically the only noteworthy credit for the "actress" prior to "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen," which arrives in theaters June 24. (She did appear in last year's "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," but nobody saw that, so let's leave it out.)

What Megan is more known for are her scantily-clad Maxim covers and her scathingly candid interviews, wherein she's quick to talk about everything from the pedophilic undertones of "High School Musical" to her disdain for the use of 10-dollar words by peers like Scarlett Johansson. Megan is a prime example of the weightlessness of modern mainstream consumer culture: she's hot, she's controversial and she's hurled herself into the public eye, therefore she's interesting. The fact that she's been in a few movies is secondary.

One of Megan's more redemptive qualities is that she seems fully aware of the absurdity of her fame. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, she remarked that she doesn't believe she's done enough professionally to earn her celestial level of stardom. I've got to give the girl some credit: she took the words right out of my mouth.

No one expects anything Oscar-worthy to come from Megan in the "Transformers" sequel, and only time will tell if she's truly to be taken seriously as an actress. For now, though, we'll take the uncensored Q & As and the smoking photos. Because, like it or not, Megan Fox is a star to watch.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

DVD Spotlight (June 11 - June 17)

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Not in the mood for a "Hangover"? Fed up with "Up"? Thinking, to hell with "Drag Me to Hell"? First of all, shame on you. We're actually knee-deep in a surprisingly good summer season, give or take a few lousy Wolverines and Terminators. But, if you must stay in, cozy up with these noteworthy films, now available on DVD.

Dir. Sam Mendes
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon
119 min. R

One of the finest films of 2008, "Revolutionary Road" reunites everyone's favorite "Titanic" couple, although this time it's the insults, not the sparks, that go flying. Searingly written, painstakingly directed and brilliantly played by both lead actors, this watch-and-watch-again adaptation of Richard Yates's 1950s suburbia-as-hell novel is a must for drama fans.

Dir. Stephen Daldry
Starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
123 min. R

Though "The Reader" surely isn't one of my favorites (the seen-it-before melodrama is as sticky as the May-December sex scenes), it'd be in poor taste to not acknowledge the film that finally landed Ms. Winslet an Oscar. The actress' challenging, fascinating performance is reason enough to catch this otherwise average, Nazi-themed Best Picture nominee (the cinematography from Chris Menges and the peerless Roger Deakins doesn't hurt, either).

Dir. Clint Eastwood
Starring Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Hughes, Bee Vang
116 min. R

While it was the biggest box-office hit of Clint Eastwood's career, this racially-charged drama was entirely ignored by the Academy. Don't you do the same. Directed by and starring Eastwood, "Gran Torino" is surprisingly powerful, and sees the Hollywood heavyweight in top form in what's rumored to be his last on-screen role.


Wednesday, June 3, 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. Olivier Assayas
IFC Films
103 min. NR

There used to be a family-owned restaurant and ice cream shop about three miles from my childhood home. Passed down through generations, it had long been a local landmark by the time I was old enough to pay my first visit. But a few years ago, the newest generation decided that they couldn't be bothered with the business, and sold it off to some developers who have since turned it into a strip mall.

A similar scenario is explored in “Summer Hours,” the quietly involving new drama from writer/director Olivier Assayas (“Clean,” “Demonlover”). When Hélène, a 75-year-old French heiress and art enthusiast, dies, her three grown children – Adrienne, a New York designer played by Juliette Binoche; Jérémie, a running shoe exec working out of China, played by Jérémie Renier; and Frédéric, an economist and professor and the only sibling left in France, played by Charles Berling – must decide what to do with all that she's left behind, including her memory-filled, garden-covered estate and the marvelous collection of art and antiques inside of it.

Hélène knew her end was near. In the film's beautifully bittersweet opening act (a tone that's echoed in its final scenes), she prophecizes her demise during the family's annual summer reunion, frantically informing Frédéric (the eldest sibling) of what she hopes will become of all her belongings. It's a sort of verbal last will and testament that the son respectfully regards as unnecessary. But roughly a year later, Hélène is indeed gone, and the aftermath is as she feared, albeit suspected: Adrienne and Jérémie have little interest in the house or the treasures, while Frédéric suffers silent anguish, knowing the fate of the family's heirlooms isn't in synch with his late mother's wishes.

“Summer Hours” slyly and naturally draws you into its story. Aside from prolific D.P. Eric Gautier's vibrant visuals (the picturesque family property and Binoche's crayon-box wardrobe really pop), the movie is very subdued; its appeal lies in the nuances of the narrative, the believable character dynamics (the whole cast is sublime), and the uncommon amount of attention paid to the pieces in Hélène's stunning collection (much of which came from an artist uncle who also hands down some whispered-at intrigue). I don't recall ever seeing a film with such a boundless love for antiques, or one that gives said objects such fascinating significance. The approach adds a sentimental profundity to the decisions made by the siblings, who, of course, discover some things about themselves and each other in the process.

Watching this film, I kept thinking about that eatery/ice cream shop, and just how much – if at all – the kids who sold it off have disappointed their Hélène. Are they pleased with their decisions? Do they have regrets? Are they designer and shoe exec-types too busy to care about sentimentality? And when they made said decisions, did they double-back on their pasts and reassess themselves and one another? Questions like these are ones that Assayas eloquently answers, making “Summer Hours” a sumptuous treat amidst a noisy summer season. 4.5 stars (out of 5).

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