Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Note to Ashton:

Shoot. Your. Costume Designer.

Mr. aplusk SCARFS down women in his new film "Spread" (co-starring sexual flip-flopper extraordinaire Anne Heche). Get my full meaning by watching THE TRAILER.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I'll join the consensus and agree that this film and this performance look pretty promising (albeit uber baity). Still, I really loathe Hilary Swank, Oscars or no Oscars. No matter how well she slips into Amelia's skin, there's no getting past those nightmarish incisors.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Two Cents

YMB chimes in on what everyone else is already talking about

Truly shocking. Academy prez Sid Ganis announced Wednesday that, for the first time since 1943, there will be not five but TEN 2009 films vying for the Best Picture Oscar. Since I'm no longer speechless, I'll say this: I'm plenty curious to see which titles make the cut (more mainstream flicks? more art house pics?), but this move instantly lowers the value of being a Best Pic nominee. I can see the Blockbuster racks now: 'Top Ten new releases, Oscar nominees all!' There is one definite UPside, though (hehe).

"The Hangover"
This comedy, contrary to some idiotic theories, will not be among the ten nominees. As a giddy fan of "Road Trip" and "Old School," I was eager to throw back Todd Phillips' latest, especially since everyone from critics to high school kids can't shut up about it. I enjoyed it, particularly its work-backwards, solve-the-booze-soaked-mystery structure, but it surely isn't as hilarious or stupendous as the immense hype suggests.

Tim Burton's "Wonderland"
USA Today leaked some seriously beautiful and exciting photos from Tim Burton's upcoming "Alice in Wonderland," slated for March of 2010. Usual Burton collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter play the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen, while 19-year-old Mia Wasikowska ("In Treatment") takes on the role of Alice. My favorite casting/publicity still? The gorgeous Anne Hathaway as the White Queen (left).

Richard Kelly's "The Box"
James Marsden and Cameron Diaz talk in seemingly unconvincing southern accents while deciding whether or not to push a mysterious red button. Let's just hope it's more "Donnie Darko" than "Southland Tales."

Perez Hilton vs. The Black Eyed Peas
It was inevitable. Someone had to give Perez a black eye sooner or later; so, who better than the Peas? Perez and Will.I.Am's war of words -- apparently prompted by the celeb blogger's slandering of the group's new album -- eventually led to Perez getting sucker-punched by BEP's manager. The gossip guru then posted videos online, exhibiting bruises and tears. Who was moved by said video, I'd like to know. Sorry Perez, I'm not down with the Peas' new tunes either (empty and flat, even for trash-pop), but nobody cares that you got clocked. Also, who are you to call ANYONE "fugly?!?"

R.I.P. M.J.
Just when you thought Farrah Fawcett's passing was the biggest celebrity death news of the week, MICHEAL JACKSON DIES. Whew. If there's an upside to this "holy s**t!" announcement, it's the marathons of MJ's greatest hits being broadcast all over TV and the radio. There hasn't been this much quality mainstream music since...wow, it has been a long time. I wanted to include the video for "Bad," one of my favorite MJ singles and the first one I heard following news of his death, but YouTube seems to have disabled the embedding of all Jacko material. So, CLICK HERE instead.

And now for somebody everyone should be talking about:

Mirusia Louwerse
This Australian opera singer, often seen with renowned Dutch violinist Andre Rieu, really does look and sound like an angel. Winner of the 2006 Noosa Federation of the Arts Dame Joan Sutherland Award (and, breathe!), she moves listeners to tears with her silky soprano pipes. My beloved Brandon over at Brandon's Theory has a nice little piece about her, including a (surprisingly well-edited) video of one of her tear-jerking performances. Eat your heart out, Susan Boyle.

Leading Men, Morphed

A link to this video was emailed to me. Amazing!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pop Goes the Week

YMB skims the pop culture surface for tidbits of interest. Here's what I'm fancying this week:

The wonderfully absurd second season of "Paris Hilton's My New BFF." Or, more specifically, Onch, the airy heiress's flamboyant (to put it mildly) "permanent pet." Never before has someone donned a plastic babydoll headband with such -- actually, never before has someone donned a plastic babydoll headband is quite sufficient. Check out Onch's MySpace photo albums. They're like...rainbow diarrhea (which I think might actually be one of the photo captions).

Sundance Channel's "Green Porno" by Isabella Rosselini. Have you seen it? It's adorable, educational, random and, at times, pretty racy. Though this series 0f two-minute animal sex clips is now in its under-the-sea season, I prefer season one: insects. Click it. You will believe a bee can climax.

The whole Dustin Lance Black sex tape debacle (watch out, kids -- NSFW). This is a curious case for me. On one hand (thanks to this Oscar-winner's do-gooder cuteness), I'm experiencing some strong, save-the-smart-gay-lamb-from-the-lions protective instincts. Poor guy. On the other hand, you bet your a$$ I checked out those pics.

"The Graveyard Book" by "Coraline" scribe Neil Gaiman. I just bought this Newberry Medal-winning "children's book" today, read the first few pages, and I'm already hooked. Gaiman's language takes some getting used to but the process is delightful. And this story, about a Mowgli-like orphan who's raised by ghosts, is terribly intriguing. One question: What, praytell, will they call the inevitable film adaptation? "The Graveyard Movie"? It hasn't exactly reached the medium-transcending immortality of Rudyard Kipling's works.

Lady Gaga. Sorry, Britney et al. Ain't none of y'all other pop divas got nothin' on this chick, whose yummy, addictive bubbleglam garbage is consistently, butt shakingly excellent. I'm still nowhere near done with "Poker Face" (nor may I ever be), and now she's given me "Love Games" to play with, too. As photos like those in this recent Rolling Stone show, Gaga ain't the prettiest gal on the block, but damn, does she know how to craft a hit song. She' 100% pure pop. And I love it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

'Shutter Island'

Behold the beautiful trailer for Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," a paranoid thriller adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane. It stars a few big, exciting names, like, oh... Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, Elias Koteas, Max Von Sydow...I'll stop. Just watch and enjoy:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Roman Holiday

How a vacation in Italy brought one film lover's dreams to life
By R. Kurt Osenlund

Before this year I had never really been anywhere. Well, nowhere worth gushing over, anyway, and certainly nowhere abroad. Indeed, I had traversed a good chunk of the East Coast – the occasional autumn train ride to New York, a trip to Georgia to see a close friend's family, winter flights to Florida to visit grandparents – but in terms of seeing the world, the farthest I'd gone was Niagara Falls, Canada, which, for those who've never had the pleasure, feels about as international as a visit to the mall food court. As I'd imagine is the case for many young, cash-strapped cinephiles, my globe-trotting had long been done vicariously through the movies. I'd cruised the corners of Spain with Pedro Almodóvar, toured the streets of Tokyo with Sofia Coppola, even been in and Out of Africa with Sydney Pollack, but never had I truly breathed exotic air. Then, this year, after much planning and saving, I hopped a plane to one of film's favorite destinations: Rome.

So fraught is my mind with movie memories, that everyday life is often seen in 35 mm. People, places and things never fail to evoke characters, settings and scenes. Travel is especially cinematic: waiting in the airport becomes a hilarious bit from Kevin Smith's Dogma, while being seated on the aircraft itself transforms into suspenseful sequences too many to number. But nothing, no prior evocative encounter or any in the foreseeable future, can compare to the epic spectacle that awaited me in and around that ancient Italian city, a place of such wonder and rich history, on screen and off, that even walking on its grounds has the feel of great drama.

I've named this piece after William Wyler's classic romantic romp, wherein Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck explore the two and a half thousand-year-old metropolis much like I did, scrambling to fit as many breathtaking sights as possible into a single day. But apart from that comparison, I've little personal connection to “Roman Holiday,” fine and fun a film as it may be. There are three films to which I have much stronger ties, and each of them is set, wholly or partly, in a once unreachable place that I was fortunate enough to see during my own holiday in Rome. Visiting these sites, I was able to not only return to those movies but, in a peculiar way, become a part of them, if only for a short while.

The Colosseum and Gladiator

Enormously popular during and since its release in 2000, Gladiator, a Best Picture Oscar-winner that sees a fierce Russell Crowe fall and rise as a former Roman general who becomes the ultimate crowd-pleaser, marked the triumphant return of the swords-and-sandals epic, a sub-genre that had been absent from Hollywood since the time of Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus and Wyler's Ben-Hur, circa 1960. For me, it marked the point when director Ridley Scott officially became one of the world's greatest living filmmakers. Already renowned for sci-fi standards like Alien and Blade Runner, Scott brought to Gladiator the same painstaking artistic detail and all-consuming atmosphere that highlight his most enduring works. Unlike his brother, Tony (who lately relies too heavily on overly-saturated colors and second-rate scripts), Ridley is a dependable supplier of fully-fueled transport vehicles – escape pods that take us out of our reality and into another. Gladiator, with its elaborate period production design and transcendent cinematography, carries us back to around the year 180, when Roman Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus were in power and the Colosseum, according to a character in the film, was “the beating heart of Rome.”

Today, the Colosseum is a monumental ruin, but the notion that it's pumping the blood of the city is very much intact. One of the most visited attractions on Earth, it receives millions of tourists every year and was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Positioned at the east end of the Roman Forum, it seems to draw in people and vehicles with magnetic force, pulling them down the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, a central Roman road that runs parallel to the Forum and extends to the Colosseum like a black-topped red carpet. When approaching the massive arena (which reaches a height of 158 feet and covers six acres), you really get the sense that you're attending the gladiatorial games of antiquity, what with the lines of eager spectators and the vast, vaulted archways still bearing their gate-denoting numerals. Inside, the floor and seats of the ampitheatre are all but gone, lost over time to earthquakes, fire and erosion. What's visible now are cascading tiers of scarred stone, where up to 50,000 once sat, and the exposed tunnels of the underground hypogeum, where enslaved warriors like Crowe's Maximus were once held. It is because of the remarkable vision and memorable moments of movies like Gladiator that we can visualize what more than likely went down in such places, in ways no history book could ever provide. Personally, as I gazed across the Colosseum's interior, I didn't hear a chorus of, “Maximus! Maximus!,” but another line, uttered by a sheltered slave upon his first glimpse of the stadium: “I didn't know man could build such things.”

The Trevi Fountain and La Dolce Vita

Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) is basically required viewing in film schools, right up there with Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. Though invaluable for their innovations and well worth seeing at least once, pictures like Battleship and Birth can fatigue even the most fervent film enthusiast. The joyously decadent La Dolce Vita, however, is a fine wine of a movie, the experience of it maturing and evolving with time. Having been a late-blooming film student, I missed many of those core titles and sought them out on my own. La Dolce Vita was one of the most elusive and also one of the most rewarding. Well known as the project that signified Fellini's transition from Italian neo-realism to more avant-garde fare, it is brimming with life and unbridled artistry while still possessing a rather easily definable structure. It follows, day to night and back again, the urban adventures of Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a womanizing tabloid reporter in search of love and salvation on the streets of Rome. Fellini presents a much different Rome than the one depicted in Gladiator, focusing on the lavish lifestyles of the late 1960s. The film's most famous scene takes place at Rome's largest fountain, the Trevi, in which the Swedish-American blonde bombshell Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) takes a carefree, late-night dip while Marcello looks on. Infatuated, Marcello joins her, and we see the character surrender to his desires.

My new favorite thing about this brief scene is the way that Sylvia discovers the Trevi. Preoccupied by a stray cat she picked just moments before, the childlike starlet stumbles upon the fountain when emerging from a dark alley. “My goodness!” she shouts. Such is the manner in which many of Rome's most beautiful architectural treasures are found. While the Colosseum has its own virtual landing strip, gems like the Trevi are nestled among the city buildings, hiding around corners and down cobblestoned pathways. It's easy to envision La Dolce Vita when visiting the fountain; in fact, it's impossible not to. Amidst the swarming crowds of gelato-eating tourists, dozens of street vendors are peddling stills from the film at three euro a pop. But even if there were no vendors and no constant reminders, being in such an iconic spot would've still elicited a kind of excitement I'd only previously felt in front of a screen.

Hadrian's Villa and HBO's Angels in America

By common standards, Mike Nichols's soaring translation of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America, isn't a proper movie at all. Developed for HBO as a miniseries in 2003, it runs for six hours, has never had a theatrical audience and was certainly never up for Oscar consideration. By my standards, it is a consummate masterpiece, fully deserving of the Emmys and Golden Globes it gobbled up six years ago, and if including it among great features is improper, I don't wanna be right. With a cast to die for – including Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson and Jeffrey Wright – and material that's the modern equivalent of Shakespeare's best, director Nichols had the tools to build something extraordinary. He delivered, presenting Kushner's brilliant, sprawling story of love, loss, politics and religion during the eruption of AIDS in the 1980s as a film so grand, it's a wonder TVs could even contain it. Unable to have witnessed Angels on stage, I consider it a gift, an unbroken chain of ingenious words and indelible scenes. One such scene – the climax – is set in Heaven, which in the play is described as an alternate version of San Francisco strewn with ancient rubble. Nichols opted to play primarily off the ancient part, showing only distant suggestions of the Golden Gate Bridge. For the rest of his interpretation of the hereafter, the director chose Hadrian's Villa.

As Angels nearly breached the confines of television, Hadrian's Villa (or Villa Adriana) is beyond the confines of Rome. Built as a retreat for the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the early second century, the roughly 250-acre estate rests on a hilly patch of Tivoli, Rome's neighbor to the northeast. I walked its expansive acres in quiet awe, not only of the multi-styled architectural ruins that guests are free to roam, but of the supernatural setting I had, until then, known it to be. I am not a religious person, therefore I'm surely no saint, so if Heaven exists, odds are I won't be in the front of the line to enter. Hadrian's Villa, peacefully perched high above the bustling world below, may be the closest I'll ever get to Kingdom Come.

A funny sensation came over me shortly after returning home from Italy. The world as I knew it had grown larger, and yet, having attained at least part of what once seemed unattainable, it also felt smaller. However it altered my perception of the world, the trip did impress upon me at least one slice of newfound wisdom: a passport can be the ultimate movie ticket.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of ICON magazine. It has been reprinted with permission. Location photos by R. Kurt Osenlund.

Because There Is Life After Child Stardom...

...and I ain't talkin' 'bout sitcoms, web series, or cameos in stoner movies. I'm talkin' twinkle-toed, perfectly-pitched, presumably impromptu, show-topping life: CLICK HERE. With one much buzzed-about song-and-dance number at the Tonys, has host Neil Patrick Harris officially made himself a bona fide superstar? I can almost hear the phones in Hollywood ringing off the hook.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Art House Salad: SUMMER HOURS

Dishing on the latest blend of alternative flicks being tossed around in limited release
By R. Kurt Osenlund

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).

This post originally appeared on BucksLocalNews.com's The Good Life Blog and has been reprinted with permission.