The Good Life

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

DVD Spotlight: Nov. 26 - Dec. 2

Brief capsules on new DVDs worth renting.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Dir. David Yates

In this sixth installment of the enormously popular fantasy saga, there's nary a trace of the pixie-dust kid stuff that appeared in earlier chapters like Chris Columbus's "Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets." "Half-Blood Prince" is a mature, dark and sometimes seriously scary epic, approached by the cast and crew with the utmost artistic integrity. Undoubtedly caused by a desire to please "Potter" devotees, the film lags a bit as it places too much emphasis on the teen romances brewing in the halls of Hogwarts school. Still, it is a magical, extremely impressive achievement, standing as the best "Potter" flick since "Prisoner of Azkaban." (Available Dec. 8.)

Dir. Nora Ephron

In what will surely land her a 16th career Oscar nomination, Meryl Streep is delectable as Julia Child in this imperfect but irresistible dramedy from writer/director Nora Ephron. Apated from the book by blogger Julie Powell, "Julie & Julia" is a breezy, largely delightful experience, even if the half with Julie (Streep's "Doubt" costar Amy Adams) pales in comparison to the Paris-set bliss of Julia's portion. It's a credit to Ephron's skill and determination that the dual-biopic approach worked at all, and strong -- albeit, sidelined -- turns from Chris Messina and the wonderful Stanley Tucci are icing on the cake. (Available Dec. 8.)

Dir. Larry Charles

British envelope-pusher Sacha Baron Cohen outdoes himself with "Bruno," the shocking and side-splittingly hilarious follow-up to his 2006 hit, "Borat." Plenty of scenes in this film left my face covered in tears of laughter, as Cohen proves how fearless a guerilla comedian he truly is. Certainly not for everyone (and definitely not for children), "Bruno" earns every inch of its R rating. It's also the funniest movie of the year. (Now available.)

Wednesday, November 18, 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

From Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio behind "Juno" and "Slumdog Millionaire," comes this drama about a broken-down country singer (Jeff Bridges). The film looks to be this year's "The Wrestler" (also from Fox Searchlight), featuring a lead performance that sets up four-time Oscar nominee Bridges as a last-minute Best Actor contender. Co-starring Robert Duvall and Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart" marks the directorial debut of Scott Cooper, who also wrote the screenplay.

Winner of the coveted Palme D'or, or Best Picture, at this year's Cannes Film Festival, "The White Ribbon" is the latest film from Austrian auteur Michael Haneke ("Cache'"). Centered around a children's choir in a northern German village just before World War I, the German-language film was shot in crisp black and white and is said to be a "masterwork" (Sight and Sound). It opens in limited release this December.

From acclaimed director Jim Sheridan ("In America," "My Left Foot"), this love triangle drama, about a soldier in the Iraq war and the family he left behind, boasts the trifecta of Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Maguire is the soldier who's presumed dead, Portman is his young wife, and Gyllenhaal is his brother, who carries on an affair with Portman's character in her husband's absence. While "Brothers" looks as though it could be disappoitningly conventional, the level of talent in front of and behind the camera is hard to resist.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Star to Watch


By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

In 2007, at the age of 13, American-born Irish actress Saorsie Ronan became the 11th youngest actor in history to be nominated for an Oscar, for her supporting work as young Briony Tallis in the epic romance "Atonement."

In addition to the Academy, Ronan's performance got her the attention of a host of film critics societies, as well as Peter Jackson, director of "King Kong" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Jackson, who's known to have a keen eye for casting (he launched the career of Orlando Bloom), chose Ronan to play the lead in his next project, a big-screen adaptation of the bestselling novel "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold.

In the film, which opens this December, Ronan plays Susie Salmon, a young girl who's raped and murdered in the beginning of the story, and then watches her family -- and her killer -- from heaven. Jackson has said that Ronan reminded him of a young Cate Blanchett, which is an extreme compliment seeing as Blanchett is one of our greatest living actors.

With her piercing blue eyes and cryptic, Mona Lisa-like smile, Ronan possesses a fascinating screen presence, and exudes a maturity and natural talent that's well beyond her years (it's not for nothing she was the only actor in "Atonement" to receive an Oscar nod). In "Bones," Ronan stars alongside fellow Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg, Academy Award winners Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon, Michael Imperioli and Stanley Tucci, who plays Susie's murderer.

That's a mighty group of actors with whom to share the spotlight, but don't think young Ronan isn't capable of stealing the show. . . it wouldn't be the first time.

To watch the trailer for "The Lovely Bones," CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

DVD Spotlight: Nov. 5 - Nov. 11

Brief capsules on new DVDs worth renting.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Dir. Pete Docter
Starring the voices of Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer

An old man ties thousands of helium balloons to his house and flies away on an amazing adventure in this equally amazing animated triumph from the ever-reliable dream-makers at Pixar. As moving and intelligent as it is colorful and funny, this for-all-ages flick is one of the year's best.

Dir. Robert Kenner

"Super Size Me" may have exposed the dangers of fast food restaurants, but Kenner digs even deeper, showing us the ugly truths behind something much more sacred: our precious supermarkets. Focusing on the monopolizing, unhealthy and unethical practices of major agricultural companies, this frightening and fascinating documentary may just change the way you look at everything you eat.

Dir. J.J. Abrams
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Director and TV vet Abrams proves himself a world-class action moviemaker with this exhilirating franchise reboot, a fast-paced, great-looking blockbuster that's both intelligent and fun. The cast is dynamite, especially Quinto, who gives one of 2009's most assured supporting performances as the famous Mr. Spock.

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