The Good Life

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trailer Park

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

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Can't-miss director Clint Eastwood presents this presumably Oscar-bound drama about the life of Nelson Mandela during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. Morgan Freeman, who previously worked with Eastwood on "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby," plays the venerable South African president, while Matt Damon, who's arguably experiencing the best year of his career, plays Francois Pineaar, captain of the South African team. Formerly dubbed "The Human Factor," the film is based on author John Carlin's book, "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation."

This fantasy film, directed and co-written by the visionary Terry Gilliam, features the final performance of Heath Ledger, who passed away when the movie was still being filmed. Ledger's part -- a mysterious drifter named Tony -- was altered to be a transformative character, with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepping in to complete Ledger's scenes. Focusing on a traveling theatre troupe whose leader (Parnassus) makes a deal with the devil, the film also stars Tom Waits, Verne Troyer and Christopher Plummer in the title role.

Benicio Del Toro stars as the titular monster in this remake of the 1941 horror classic. Slated for February 2010, the film is directed by Joe Johnston, who previously helmed such movies as "Jumanji" and "Jurassic Park III." Released by the original monster factory, Universal Pictures, "Wolfman" boasts a supporting cast that includes Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik and Anthony Hopkins.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Art House Salad

Dishing on the latest blend of alternative flicks being tossed around in limited release.
By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Dir. Lone Scherfig
Sony Pictures Classics
95 min. PG-13

Can an extraordinary performance lift a slightly-too-ordinary movie to the height of greatness? In the case of breakout star Carey Mulligan in director Lone Scherfig's coming-of-age tale, “An Education,” the answer is...almost. Mulligan, 24, whose previous film credits include 2005's “Pride & Prejudice” and not much else, is luminous and unforgettable, and she'll almost certainly find herself in the company of such young and relatively inexperienced actresses as Jennifer Hudson, Amy Adams and Catalina Sandino Moreno, whose similarly revelatory work landed them in Oscar's good graces. And this film, set in 1960s London and based on the autobiographical memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, is eloquent, attractive and oh-so-classy. But there is a vexing, underlying familiarity to it that even Mulligan's magnetism can't hide, and that's both a surprise and a disappointment given the resoundingly positive post-Sundance reviews. “An Education” is often a joy to watch, but it's not quite as special as the early buzz suggests.

Mulligan plays Jenny, a super-achieving, virginal 16-year-old whose entire life has been steering her down one predetermined path: she will study her butt off, get into Oxford, study her butt off some more, and then...what? Jenny's father (Alfred Molina, also Oscar-worthy) is loving, but overprotective and obsessed with status and success. Opting not to bank on the archaic notion that Jenny will simply marry into wealth and be provided for, he's always told his daughter that she must follow aforementioned path to make it in the world. Jenny's mother (a warmly charming Cara Seymour) dutifully stands by her husband's plans with very few objections. The teachers at Jenny's all-girls high school perpetually drive the same way of thinking into her head: “get to university, get to university.” But no one has ever really explained to Jenny what enjoyable benefits will be waiting at the end of the path, and keeping her nose forever buried in books has left her culturally squelched. As she confides to her friends, what she really wants to do is listen to French music, travel to beautiful places, smoke, dance and converse with interesting people. She gets all that and more when she meets David (the invaluable Peter Sarsgaard), a dashing, 35-year-old bon vivant who seduces not only Jenny, but her parents as well. Wining and dining her in Paris and beyond, David gives Jenny the worldly escapades she's been craving, but, of course, there's more to this mystery man than meets the starry eye.

The script by novelist-turned-screenwriter Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About A Boy”) has a wonderful ear for sharp, witty and refined dialogue, never better exemplified than in a few deliciously dramatic exchanges between Jenny and her stern headmistress (the great Emma Thompson), who spar over the value of the education system after word of Jenny's extracurricular activities begins to circulate. But the developments of the plot are too schematic for such a seemingly high-caliber project, to the extent that, eventually, I knew it was high time for things to reach their inevitable, all-is-lost climactic peak, and such a moment arrived within seconds. Though dressed up beautifully (Odile Dicks-Mireaux's costume design, Paul Englishby's music, and John de Borman's cinematography – especially in Paris – are all exquisite), the path of the film is one we've all traveled before, and its tidy conclusion is très typical.

And still, it is a film I really enjoyed. Mulligan, who has rightfully earned a slew of Audrey Hepburn comparisons, is so splendid as Jenny, her presence alone is worth the price of multiple admissions. It's not often you see a breakthrough performance in which the actor is so utterly comfortable and confident on camera. And as Jenny learns from her adventures, the performance evolves as well. Mulligan seems to be growing with her character, and the best thing about this movie is that it invites us to watch her bloom. Scherfig also succeeds in conveying the seductiveness of David, his posh friends (Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike) and their lavish lifestyle, which is as beguiling to the audience as it is to Jenny.

Fulfilling the film's theme of “action is character,” Jenny's experiences make her a richer, better person. The experience of “An Education” isn't that powerful, but, more often than not, it comes close.
4 stars (out of 5)

"An Education" opens Nov. 23 at the Ritz Five in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Star to Watch


By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Of all the performances I've seen this year, only one left me firmly convinced that it already has the Oscar in the bag. I'm talking about comedienne-turned-dramatic-actress Mo'Nique's devastating and much buzzed-about work in Philly native Lee Daniels' festival fave, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."

Perhaps burdened a bit by such relentless advance hype, "Precious" doesn't always come through in providing the emotional wallop it promises. But it's a unique and powerful film nonetheless, and, wow, does Mo'Nique deliver. As the unbelievably monstrous mother of the horribly abused title character, Mo'Nique is absolutely astounding. From her fierce verbal assault on her daughter in an early scene to her blubbering breakdown in the film's conclusion, hers is a performance of such power that it completely consumes you. When Mo'Nique is on screen, she is all you see and hear.

Never before has this well-known funny girl attempted such a role, making it all the more outstanding. There've been some rumors that there's a bit of bad blood between Mo'Nique and the filmmakers regarding some financial issues. It's my hope that such politics won't interfere with the actress' Oscar chances. Because, at this point, the 2009 Best Supporting Actress Academy Award is hers to lose, and she deserves it.
Here's a new trailer for "Precious," in theaters Nov. 6 :

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DVD Spotlight: Oct. 15 - Oct. 21

Brief capsules on recently released DVDs worth renting.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Dir. Greg Mottola
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds

In this down-to-earth, coming-of-age comedy, Mottola ("Superbad") draws fine performances from a hot, in-demand cast and authentically evokes 1980s adolescence. Set amidst the backdrop of a zany theme park, the film boasts a youthful accuracy and honesty -- as well as a killer soundtrack -- that's inspired well-deserved comparisons to "Dazed and Confused." The down side? It's only mildly funny.

Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring Paulina Gaitan, Diana Garcia

Attempting to flee to America with her father and uncle, a young Latin American girl faces danger and emotional turmoil when she becomes involved with an on-the-run gang member. The story is absorbing and the photography is wonderfully atmospheric, with much of the action taking place on a moving train.

Dir. Sam Raimi
Starring Alison Lohman

Director Raimi returns to form with this thrill-a-second fun ride, a devilish blend of genuine scares, shocks and laughs. In the tradition of "Scream" and Raimi's own "Evil Dead" trilogy, it's a horror flick that delivers the goods but never takes itself too seriously. Lohman is dead-on as the cursed heroine.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trailer Park

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

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life fim critic

Director Robert Zemeckis returns to the performance capture animation style he employed in "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf" with this bold re-imagining of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. Attempting to silence the detractors of his previous performance capture efforts (namely critics who specifically commented on the characters appearing lifeless), Zemeckis has said that he and his team of effects wizards have refined the technology, which involves filming actors covered in motion-detecting sensors, and then digitally recreating everything from basic forms to facial expressions. Jim Carrey is the guy wearing the sensors this time out, portraying Scrooge as well as the three ghosts who visit him.


Blockbuster kingpin Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow") is a hit-or-miss filmmaker. Usually miss. "Tomorrow" was ludicrous, as was Emmerich's last movie, "10,000 B.C." At this point, no moviegoer worth his or her salt enters this guy's films expecting a plausible, compelling storyline. But where Emmerich excels is in the area of special effects -- he always seems to be pushing the limits of visual pow and grandeur. His latest spectacle is "2012," another entry in the apocalypse genre inspired by the ancient Mayan prophecy that claims Earth will expire three years from now. Based on the look of this trailer, "2012" is primed to be Emmerich's most eye-popping picture to date.

This 2010 remake of Wes Craven's immortal 1984 slasher flick has Michael Bay as a producer, which doesn't exactly bode well in terms of quality. In fact, given the track record of recent horror movie recycle projects, there isn't much of anything here that shows a lot of promise. Except, that is, for the presence of Oscar nominee and comeback kid Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children," "Watchmen"), who'll be stepping into Robert Englund's shoes as the notorious Freddie Krueger. Haley, who's created a bevy of interesting characters in the past few years, is reason enough to spark my interest in this otherwise (seemingly) uninteresting movie.

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