A perfect husband a devoted father a loyal friend a successful architect—yes Steven Burke (David Duchovny) is the kind of flawless family man we only encounter in hankie-soaking Hollywood melodramas. He exists solely to be killed off just so his friends and family can become better people through their loss. So it comes as no surprise that Steven dies a Good Samaritan's death while on his way home—of course—from buying ice cream for his two kids. If that won’t get you crying nothing will. Steven’s death leaves his wife Audrey (Halle Berry) a mess. She can’t look after herself let alone her daughter Harper (Alexis Llewellyn) and son Dory (Micah Berry). Instead Audrey turns to Steven’s best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro) for help. Not really the smartest choice—Audrey despises Jerry for squandering his life and career on drugs. But Audrey’s desperate for a shoulder to cry on so she inexplicably invites Jerry to stay at her home while he tries to clean up his act. Quicker than you can say “rest in peace ” Jerry’s dispensing words of wisdom to Steven’s kids and in a moment of unintentional hilarity spooning with the lonely Audrey in her bed. Audrey naturally comes to believe that Jerry isn’t the strung-out leech she’s considered him all these years. Still we can’t help but count down the minutes until Jerry slips back into his old habits. Or wonder how long it will take for Audrey to kick Jerry out of her house when the inevitable happens. Things We Lost in the Fire serves an important purpose: to make clear that Halle Berry’s performance in Monster's Ball wasn’t a happy accident. As a widow unable to function without her soul mate Berry shakes up the otherwise maudlin proceedings with a rage and intensity that’s honest and fearless. Never afraid to present Audrey as occasionally cold and unsympathetic especially in regards to her treatment of Jerry and her children Berry nevertheless always makes us feel Audrey’s burning love for Steven without resorting to Joan Crawford-like histrionics. Too bad Audrey is defined only by her role as a wife and mother—Berry never receives the chance to show that Audrey has a life outside her family. She does share a good rapport with the typically brooding Benicio Del Toro whose ravaged face reveals more about Jerry’s lifetime of self-inflicted pain and suffering than words ever could. But there is a slight spark to be found in Del Toro’s sleepy eyes which gives us the impression that Jerry has what it takes to live one day at time with the support of his new friends. David Duchovny doesn’t do much beyond smiling like he’s just been named Father of the Year for the 10th time. Not that Duchovny needs to exert himself to make Steven charming and likeable—Steven is as happy and uncomplicated as Duchovny’s Californication philanderer is as sad and screwed up. Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry (no relation to his onscreen mother) nail the anguish confusion and profound sense of loss that comes with grieving for a dead parent without being annoyingly precocious. How disappointing it is to discover that not even the usually calm and collected Susanne Bier can turn Things... into something more than the standard Lifetime TV weepy of the week. The Danish director’s Hollywood debut is very much like her earlier character-driven dramas in that it is preoccupied with how established family dynamics shift in the wake of a life-altering event. After the Wedding and Brothers managed to be poignant without getting too gushy but Bier cannot keep Things... from drowning in its own sentimentality. The problem clearly lies with screenwriter Allan Loeb’s emotionally manipulative script which fails from the start to convince us Audrey would open her house to her late husband’s drug buddy. Ignoring Loeb’s hard-to-swallow premise Bier does an excellent job of establishing the relationship between Audrey and Jerry. Theirs is a well-presented study in co-dependency which results in an insightful—though occasionally obvious—exploration of drug addiction the grieving process and the pursuit of personal redemption. Things... smartly avoids making much of its interracial marriage—it would only overcomplicate matters—or taking Audrey and Jerry down a path that would led to an ill-advised romance. If only Bier and Loeb showed some guts in the way they portray Steven. Surely he had at least one skeleton in his closet to make him seem more human. Everything we learn about Steven—especially about the fire referenced in the seemingly cryptic title—merely reinforces the notion that he was too good for this world. Or at least the world Hollywood thinks we live in.
Based on E.B. White’s enduring children’s story we meet Wilbur the Pig (Dominic Scott Kay) a runt who is saved from the axe by a little farm girl named Fern (Dakota Fanning). She raises Wilbur from infancy but eventually she has to send Wilbur over to her uncle’s neighboring farm since there’s no room for a pig in her house. There in the barn Wilbur meets the assortment of colorful animal characters: Betsy (Reba McEntire) and Bitsy (Kathy Bates) two pessimistic cows; motherly goose Gussy (Oprah Winfrey) and her henpecked hubby Golly (Cedric the Entertainer); Samuel (John Cleese) an uptight sheep; the skittish horse Ike (Robert Redford); the self-serving rat Templeton (Steve Buscemi); and of course sweet Charlotte (Julia Roberts) a spider with a heart of gold. When the naïve Wilbur finds out he might be Christmas dinner Charlotte makes a promise to her new friend that she’ll do everything in her power to make sure Wilbur sees the Christmas snow—and everyone ends up helping her out. What could be more fun than to voice a barnyard animal? Winfrey and Cedric’s geese banter is like an old married couple. Cleese gives Samuel the sheep a certain upper-crustiness. Redford is actually pretty funny as a horse who’s deathly afraid of spiders (“I’ll listen to you but I just can’t look at you”). Buscemi is a particularly nice choice as the sneaky rat Templeton who only thinks about filling his belly with food (no typecasting there we swear). For pure comic relief there are also two crows voiced by Andre Benjamin and Thomas Haden Church who just can’t quite get around the whole scarecrow thing. And as Charlotte Roberts has a truly soothing and loving tone sort of how you’d imagine it from the book. As for the human aspect Fanning continues to do what she does best playing Fern with the right amount of youthful innocence spunkiness and determination. Just wondering how we are going to handle it when this amazing little actress grows up and starts doing like adult things. Actually it is sort of a shame they couldn’t get a live-action version of Charlotte's Web made before Babe. Sure there was the 1973 animated cutesy film but a live-action adaptation of this timeless tale really should have been the standard by which all computer-generated talking farm animal movies would follow don’t you think? Instead Charlotte's Web pales ever so slightly in comparison. Oh well water under the bridge. Director Gary Winick (13 Going on 30) still manages to invoke the wonderful and uplifting spirit of the novel keeping faithful to the text in all ways. Visually the film is crisp and flawless in its execution particularly in the beauty and splendor of how Charlotte spins her webs and emotionally hearts will indeed swell and tears will flow. Charlotte's Web is the perfect family movie to inspire the next generation of young readers and viewers as well as for the rest of us who fondly remember the childhood classic.
Fresh out of the slammer Calvin “Babyface” Sims (Marlon Wayans)--or to us “Little Man”--robs a jewelry store along with his partner in crime Percy P (Tracy Morgan). After the heist is somewhat botched Calvin drops the jewel in the purse of an unsuspecting young woman Vanessa (Kerry Washington) in an attempt to elude cops. Calvin then follows Vanessa and her husband Darryl (Shawn Wayans) out to their suburban home where it’s calm and where the thief learns Darryl is desperate to father a child. So three-foot-tall Calvin shows up on Darryl’s doorstep in a dog basket goo-goo-ga-ga-ing much to the couple’s delight. They take him in and turn a blind eye on the fact that he has facial stubble and a mouthful of pearly whites as Cal tries repeatedly to retrieve the diamond. Amid countless muck-ups and pratfalls the trio grows closer with even Cal showing his heartfelt side. But he is still a criminal with a motive a motive which Vanessa’s elderly father (John Witherspoon) thinks he’s got figured out. Shawn and Marlon Wayans are easily two of the top five actors in the Wayans clan which is a feat if you know their genealogy but at this point it’d be nice to split the brothers up. Their roles here weren’t easily executable--especially Marlon’s--but it’s as if they implore us to not see them as artists. Marlon whose head is superimposed atop a little person’s body--a not-so-special effect--boasts some funny lines as a hardened thief but makes for a grating “toddler ” even though most will inexplicably find his proportions to be hilarious. Meanwhile Shawn actually steals more of the physical gags like getting hit in the groin oh maybe a dozen times by various objects. And it’s a sad day in Hollywood when people like Ray’s Kerry Washington bolt the good stuff for a Wayans vehicle but hey at least she looks great! The true comedy here sparse as it may be comes from numerous cameos by In Living Color alumni and three SNL-ers (Rob Schneider Molly Shannon and Tracy Morgan). Marlon Shawn and Keenen Ivory Wayans are an absolute testament to the Hollywood Machine in action. They “get” Hollywood more than perhaps even George Lucas does making them studio execs’ best friends. They are also more in touch with their fanbase than anyone and churn out precisely what their loyalists crave. In short they are utterly fascinating. Their movies? Not so much. Director Keenen often seems to mistake irreverent for crude and co-writers Marlon and Shawn--well clearly they didn’t envision a brainbuster but they produced (at least) one: We’re merely supposed to laugh at the fact that Vanessa and Darryl don’t notice Calvin’s perpetually changing ages spewing unintelligible babytalk in one scene and playing football in the next. Otherwise it’s more or less a series of Keenen alternating locales to exploit pratfalls that would arise if the man-child problem existed.
Top Story: Britney Spears Responds to Fred Durst's Comments
Semi-retired pop princess Britney Spears, whom Glamour magazine named woman of the year, has shed some light on her alleged relationship with Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. According to People.com, British Glamour asked Spears if she and Durst really had a thing for each other. "I think him for me, but not me for him." Spears added that she was ticked off at Durst's claims on The Howard Stern Show that she tried to seduce him by arriving at his Los Angeles studio in a see-through blouse. In other Britney news, The Associated Press reports a lawyer for the singer's alleged stalker, 41-year-old Masahiko Shizawa of Yokohama, Japan, argued in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday that his client is simply "an avid fan" and his actions were misinterpreted by the pop star. Spears is seeking a restraining order against Shizawa, claiming he sent her hundreds of love letters and photographs and tracked her to her homes in Louisiana and Hollywood.
Madonna Goes From "Sex" to Children's Books
Madonna has signed a publishing deal with Penguin to write five children's books, Reuters reports. Her first book, The English Roses, based on the adventures of a red fox and a little prince, will be published in September. Penguin did not reveal how much it was paying Madonna to write the books, which will feature illustrations by a well-known artist. Aimed at children aged six and over, the books are a stark contrast to Madonna's previous publishing effort. In the early 1990s, her book Sex featured the pop star and her celebrity friends, including Naomi Campbell, Vanilla Ice and Isabella Rossellini, in various stages of undress.
P. Diddy Expands Restaurant Chain
Hip-hop entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs plans to open a third Justin's restaurant in four to eight months in downtown Detroit, the AP reports. The original Justin's--named after Combs's oldest son--is in New York with a second location in Atlanta. The restaurants offer soul and Caribbean food.
The Clash Will Not Perform at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
The Clash bassist Paul Simonon said the surviving members of the band will not perform when they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this month. Lead singer Joe Strummer died of a heart attack in December and had mentioned performing just before he died. But Simonon said he never got the chance to reply and was actually opposed to the idea. According to Reuters, Simonon told British Broadcasting Corp. radio he thought it would be better for the Clash to play in front of their public audience rather than "a seated and booted (crowd)." The Clash, one of the most influential bands to emerge from the British punk movement of the 1970s, split up in the mid-1980s and never reformed.
Anthony Hopkins Weds Again
Anthony Hopkins, best known as Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, married antiques dealer Stella Arroyave in a private ceremony, Reuters reports. Hopkins, 65, and Arroyave, 46, tied the knot Saturday in a ceremony in Malibu attended by friends and family. The two had been dating for about two years. This is the actor's third marriage.
"The Twist" Songwriter Dies
Hank Ballard, the singer and songwriter whose hit "The Twist" ushered a nationwide dance craze in the 1960s, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, the AP reports. Ballard had been suffering from throat cancer. In 1958, Ballard wrote and recorded "The Twist," which was only released on the "B" side of a record. Chubby Checker debuted his own version of "The Twist" on Dick Clark's television show one year later. The song topped the charts and launched a dance craze. Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Role Call: Bonnie Hunt; Johnny Knoxville; "Lupin the Third"
Writer-director-actress Bonnie Hunt will appear on the big screen alongside Steve Martin in 20th Century Fox's remake of Cheaper by the Dozen for director Shawn Levy. Hunt and Martin are the first two actor deals to close on the project, with production scheduled to begin March 31.
Jackass mastermind Johnny Knoxville, meanwhile, has joined the cast of Hating Her, a $10 million comedy that starts production next month. Selma Blair, Bridget Moynahan, Donald Sutherland, Maura Tierney, Blythe Danner and Logan Marshall-Green are already set to star in the project for helmer Thomas Bezucha. Finally, master thief Lupin the Third, a 1960s Japanese comic book anti-hero, will soon make his Hollywood debut. Gerald R. Molen, producer of the Oscar-winning Schindler's List, has acquired the movie rights to the work.