The Good Life

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Star to Watch


By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

Australian actress Mia Wasikowska caught the eye of critics and audiences with her performance as a troubled teen in the acclaimed HBO series "In Treatment," which features Gabriel Byrne as a psychotherapist. Soon, the 20-year-old blonde was landing bit parts in major films like "Defiance" and "Amelia," and smaller projects like "That Evening Sun" with Hal Holbrook.

Wasikowska also caught the eye of director Tim Burton, who cast her as the lead in his hotly anticipated rendition of "Alice in Wonderland," a wild, colorful marriage of live action and 3-D animation. Touted by Walt Disney Pictures for months, "Alice in Wonderland," which opens March 5, co-stars Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen.

Wasikowska's star is quickly rising. She'll also be appearing in "The Kids are Alright," a Sundance hit from director Lisa Cholodenko starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple. Wasikowska plays their daughter, on the hunt for her biological father (Mark Ruffalo). She'll also star in "Restless," the latest from "Milk" director Gus Van Sant, and "Jane Eyre," portraying the title heroine alongside Michael Fassbender.

Another sign Wasikowska is a bona-fide star to watch? She graces the cover of this month's Vanity Fair, as one of a handful of young actresses exemplifying "The New Hollywood." Check out the trailer for "Alice in Wonderland":

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

DVD Spotlight: Feb. 18 - Feb. 24

Brief capsules on new DVDs worth renting.

By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic


The humor in director Steven Soderbergh's ironic, fact-based caper comedy "The Informant!" is so interminably dry, it's difficult to fully enjoy the experience. Like the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man," it's much more frustrating than fun. But there's a great deal of enjoyment to be found in the craftsmanship of the film, which is set in the '90s but evokes the '70s. As the deluded title character, Matt Damon gives a performance as notable for its verbal dexterity as its physical sluggishness. The circus-like score by Marvin Hamlisch is one of last year's best. (Available Feb. 23)


Frequently labeled with the simplification, "The real 'Devil Wears Prada'," this delicious documentary from director R. J. Cutler is far more fascinating and sophisticated than one might think, which is precisely what it aims to reveal about the fashion industry. Opening the doors to the oft-veiled world of American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the film boasts unprecedented access, showing the inner workings of the magazine, specifically the production of the hefty, record-breaking September 2007 issue. Emerging as the movie's unlikely heroine is Grace Coddington, Vogue's artistic director who's been lovingly locking horns with Wintour for two decades. (Available Feb. 23)


This holiday-timed dramedy, a remake of an Italian film of the same name, took a whipping from most reviewers, dubbed a tasteless, tepid tearjerker. While it has its share of hokum, and some flashback/imaginary scenes that should have stayed on the cutting room floor, I beg to differ with the critical consensus: In the hands of director Kirk Jones, "Everybody's Fine" is much more graceful and skillfully constructed than it needed to be, and it hits you with some genuinely emotional moments involving divorcee Frank (Robert DeNiro) and his estranged grown children. A not-great, but surprisingly good movie unfairly derided. (Available Feb. 23)

Wednesday, February 10, 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

One of the most talked-about films at Sundance, "The Runaways" tells of the formative days of the famed '70s girl group of the title, with Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cheri Currie. Early word is that the two young leads really bring it, adding some street cred to their ever-growing careers. Floria Sigismundi directs and Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road") co-stars. (March 19)

Best title since "Snakes on a Plane?" Well, I certainly don't need to tell you what it's about. John Cusack, Rob Cordry, and that funny dude from "Pineapple Express" star, with a cameo by Chevy Chase. Much of the film takes place in the '80s -- a big plus if you ask me. Most of the jokes in this trailer are lame, but the bits about changing the main characters' futures are intriguing. "Mom?!?" (March 26)

The latest movie from controversial master filmmaker Roman Polanski, "The Ghost Writer" stars Ewan McGregor as a young British writer hired to complete the memoir of a former prime minister (Pierece Brosnan) who, naturally, isn't what he seems. Based on the Thomas Harris novel, "The Ghost," "The Ghost Writer" is the film Polanski was working on when he was arrested in September 2009 while en route to the Zurich Film Festival. The director completed the project under house arrest. Kim Cattrall, taking a crack at a British accent, co-stars. (Feb. 19)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Star to Watch


By R. Kurt Osenlund, The Good Life film critic

There's no question about it: Sandra Bullock just had the best year of her career. Not even when her breakout turn in "Speed" got her heaps of work in the mid- to late- '90s did Bullock experience the kind of popularity and success she garnered in 2009. In July, Bullock starred opposite Ryan Reynolds in "The Proposal," a charming if not entirely laudable flick that saw the 45-year-old return to her romantic comedy roots. The movie went on to gross a whopping $314 million worldwide, making it Bullock's biggest box office hit. It also landed her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (Comedy/Musical).

But, surely, the recent Bullock film that really got everyone talking was "The Blind Side," a fact-based football drama about the unlikely upbringing of defensive lineman Michael Oher. Bullock portrays Oher's adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Touhy, a real-life Southern belle with a pampered, polished lifestyle and fierce maternal instincts. Mildly moving but more than a little patronizing, "The Blind Side" proved very popular with audiences, grossing over $200 million to become the most successful sports-related drama of all time.

"The Blind Side" also landed Bullock a heap of awards recognition, including a Golden Globe for Best Actress (Drama), a SAG award for Best Actress and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Many believe her to be the favorite to win the Oscar, or, at least, the only contender who stands a chance against Meryl Streep, a nominee for "Julie & Julia."

All this amidst starring in what many to believe to be one of the very worst movies of last year, "All About Steve," for which Bullock received a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress not one day before the Oscar nominations were announced. Like it or not (as much as I adore Bullock, I feel the Oscar recognition is undeserved), hers is the most fascinating story of the awards season, especially since her climb to the top coincided with almost universal jeers for a major dud. Another factor that's pulled Bullock through is her sheer likability, which, although it doesn't really warrant award wins, sure makes for some entertaining acceptance speeches.

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