The Good Life

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DVD Spotlight: Jan. 28 - Feb. 3

Brief capsules on new DVDs worth renting.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic


While there's not much to write home about in terms of filmmaking craft, this commemorative doc. collage is nevertheless terrific entertainment, celebrating -- and not eulogizing -- the art, moves and enduring genius of arguably the greatest pop star of all time. It's amazing to see just how much Jackson still had it right up until his death, and to marvel at how music truly was his first language. (Now available)


Writer/director Jane Campion translates the work, love and tragically short life of English poet John Keats to the screen, creating her own kind of poetry in the process. Ben Whishaw is beguiling as Keats, and Abbie Cornish is exquisite as Keats's fashionista muse, Fanny Brawne. Named after Keats's famous poem to Fanny, "Bright Star" is one of 2009's best films, and certainly its most beautiful. (Now available)


Everyone's favorite everyman schlub actor, Paul Giamatti, plays himself (very well) in this surrealist comedy about a company that offers the ultimate cure for chemical imbalances: soul extraction. Giamatti opts for the procedure, reconsiders, then is forced to hunt down his soul, which ends up in the body of someone else. Though it doesn't always feel wholly original, this slightly tragic, very dry and technically accomplished comedy is a promising debut for filmmaker Sophie Barthes. (Available Feb. 2)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Trailer Park

Behold! Some of the newest trailers for some of the most noteworthy upcoming releases.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

I personally don't see why we need another Robin Hood movie, but if there must be one, I suppose the "Gladiator" duo of director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe is as good a team as any to deliver it. This new film focuses on the famous bandit's return from the Third Crusade, and his mission to save his homeland and its people from the Sherrif of Nottingham (Matthew MacFadyen). In other words, it's essentially about what every other Robin Hood flick is about. Cate Blanchett co-stars as Lady Marion.

Speaking of things we don't need, here's another Hollywood remake of a popular TV show. Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Sharlto Copley of "District 9" portray the beloved quartet, while Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson co-star. Looks to be plenty of fun, for sure, but also formulaic and hectically edited.

Tom Cruise returns to the screen in this romantic comedy/spy thriller (doesn't every Tom Cruise film feel like it's "the return of Tom Cruise?"). Cameron Diaz co-stars as a woman who keeps finding herself caught up in the mishaps of Cruise's reckless secret agent. Unlike most, I enjoyed "Vanilla Sky," the last movie that saw these two stars share the screen. Their reunion could be just a "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" wannabe, or it could be one satisfying action-comedy cocktail.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Star to Watch


By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

For my money, German-born Irish actor Michael Fassbender is one of the most exciting screen stars working today. Since he appeared in the award-winning HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" in the early 2000s, the hunky 32-year-old starred in a host of BBC shows until finally making himself known to American filmgoers by playing the warrior Stelios in Zack Snyder's green-screened swords-and-sandals epic, "300," in 2006. Since then, Fassbender's career choices have been challenging, artful and consistently intriguing -- so much so that, at this point, if Fassbender's name is in the cast list, chances are the movie is something special and unique.

Just look at three of Fassbender's most recent projects. In "Hunger," one of the very best films of 2009, Fassbender wowed in the leading role of Bobby Sands, a resolute martyr and the initiator of the Irish Hunger Strike that took place inside the walls of Northern Ireland's Maze Prison. The performance required Fassbender to lose a dramaic amount of weight, but even more affecting is the emotional intensity and gravitas of the gifted actor's work. In Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," another standout picture from last year, Fassbender appeared as a cheeky film critic/spy, and handily rounded out QT's international cast with wit and style.

Now, Fassbender delivers a wholly realistic supporting performance in "Fish Tank," writer/director Andrea Arnold's candid Cannes Jury Prize winner about an underpriveleged 15-year-old girl coping with the pains of adolescence. The UK's answer to "Precious," and the grittiest interpretation of teenage female angst since Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen," "Fish Tank" is painfully, unapologetically honest, and much of that honesty stems from the unvarnished turns by lead star Katie Jarvis and Fassbender, who portrays the older fellow who brings both pleasure and pain into the young girl's life. Even with relatively minimal screen time, Fassbender grabs the viewer once again, and once again displays his value as a character actor inside the body of a movie star. ("Fish Tank" opens at the Ritz Theatres in Philadelphia in February.)

"Fish Tank" trailer:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

DVD Spotlight - Jan. 6 - Jan. 13

Brief capsules on new DVDs worth renting

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Dir. Oren Peli
The makers of the do-it-yourself phenomenon "Paranormal Activity" are wisely using the "watch it at home...if you dare" slant to promote the movie's DVD release. Indeed, one of the few elements that makes this $15,000 thriller more unsettling than its obvious inspiration, "The Blair Witch Project," is its setting: the San Diego home of a young couple (Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston), or, more specifically, their bedroom. The "Blair Witch" kids may have been hopelessly lost, and there's certainly a major creep factor to being stalked in the woods, but being denied even the dream of hiding under your covers because that's essentially where the terror lies is arguably even worse. In the theater, "Paranormal Activity" created the kind of anticipatory suspense for which the term "nail-biting" was coined. At home, chances are that effect will hit even harder.

Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
And speaking of "nail-biting," not since 2007's "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" has a film been more excuriatingly intense than Kathryn Bigelow's masterful Iraq War drama and Oscar front-runner, "The Hurt Locker." Read more about this indispensable, must-see movie in my 2009 Top Ten List.

Dir. Kirby Dick
From the director of the controversial "This Film is Not Yet Rated," comes this extremely revealing documentary about closeted gay politicians who lobby for anti-gay legislation. The film looks into the way the media plays an integral part in supporting said politicians' contradictory lifestyles, and how it's affected the lives of millions of Americans. Among the film's subjects are Idaho Senator Larry Craig and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, both of whom have been found, or are presumed, to lead gay lifestyles, while adamantly opposing gay rights.

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