As dean of a small college Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) has made a nice life for himself--until a false accusation of racism ruins his career and he loses his wife to a brain aneurysm. Suddenly Coleman has nothing--until he embarks on an intensely sexual relationship with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) a local woman with an abusive ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) who won't leave her alone. The intensity of Coleman's love for Faunia leads him to reveal his long-held secret: He has been passing himself off as Jewish and white for most of his adult life but in reality he is a light-skinned African-American. From there a series of flashbacks to the 1940s introduce us to a younger love-struck Coleman (Wentworth Miller) and reveal the events that led him to his fateful decision. Somehow Coleman's deep dark secret isn't as shocking as it's probably meant to be but the relationship between Faunia and Coleman is--especially when it slips into the danger zone with Lester breathing down their necks.
Wentworth Miller who makes his film debut as the younger Coleman does an amazing job with his role establishing Coleman's quiet yet fierce determination to live a life free of intolerance. And as ever Hopkins is the consummate professional with flashes of intense passion and brilliance in his steely eyes. One does have to get over the fact that a Welsh actor has been cast as an elderly light-skinned African-American but if Hopkins can give nuance to a declaration of how Viagra has changed his character's life (ick) he can pull off the race thing easily enough. Kidman as the dour Faunia also has some stunning moments easily sinking to the depressive depths required of her character--not surprising considering she won the Oscar doing the same thing in The Hours. What really makes you clench your teeth though is when the two of them get together on screen--in the biblical sense. These Oscar winners are so sorely miscast as tortured lovebirds that their sexual moments make you squirm in your seat. It's not the age difference; there's simply no spark between them.
"We leave a stain a trail and imprint " Philip Roth writes in his novel the third in a trilogy on postwar America. "It's the only way to be here." The author goes on to explore myriad themes around this main premise including how we leave our marks how our decisions have consequences and how people can find one another under the direst circumstances. Unfortunately these big ideas get lost in translation on the big screen and the film suffers from adaptation blues. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer gives Roth's ideas voice only through Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) the reclusive author Coleman asks to write his life story and even that artistic character talks more about how sex is clouding Coleman's judgment than about his own life or ideology. Ultimately Meyer focuses his script too heavily on the guarded Coleman leaving the other characters too little developed. Why has Nathan secluded himself away from the world? What haunts him? Sinise does what he can with the character but there's too little background. The same goes for Faunia. Although she describes in one monologue after another the horrors of her life--she was abused as a girl and lost her two children in a terrible fire--Faunia's hardships seem distant and it's hard to connect with her character. Only the wounded Lester a Vietnam veteran seems made of real emotions and desires--he's filled with hatred and passion--and if he makes only a brief appearance in the film he certainly leaves a mark.
Told from the perspective of one innocent maid Mary Macearchran (Kelly MacDonald) the story starts as she arrives at the magnificent country estate of Gosford Park. On this particular weekend host Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) have invited an eclectic group to the house for a shooting party. The guests include Sylvia's two sisters (Geraldine Somerville Natasha Wightman) their respective loser husbands (Charles Dance Tom Hollander) her cantankerous aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) for whom Mary works British matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and his American friend Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban) a film producer who makes Charlie Chan movies. As the upper-crust guests bicker about money and power the ranks of house servants personal maids and valets below make sure their charges are well taken care of under the guidance of the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) head housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) and head cook Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Through Mary's eyes we see that the glamour of the upstairs patrons and the seeming precision downstairs are not all they seem. The two worlds are destined to collide and when they do it leads to only one thing--murder.
One of the joys of an Altman movie is his uncanny ability to take a huge ensemble cast of really good actors and carve out a film from their personal stories. This style can also work to the film's detriment however and in Gosford Park the mostly British cast melds together almost too well. Often you can't even tell who's who. Still with all the talent involved there are at least a few bright moments: Smith as the wisecracking Constance an old lady who's very used to being waited on hand and foot gets all the best lines and delivers them flawlessly and veteran actress Mirren is also brilliant as the staunch Mrs. Wilson. She turns in one of the film's only heartbreaking scenes as her character grieves for the son she gave away long ago in the name of servitude. Also good are MacDonald as the young Mary Clive Owen as the valet Robert Parks who carries more than just a chip on his shoulder and Emily Watson as the headstrong chief housemaid Elsie. Northam too shows off his musical abilities as the suave piano-playing singing Novello. The rest all blend together except unfortunately the two American actors--Balaban comes off as annoying and Ryan Phillippe playing an actor pretending to be Morris' valet is in way over his head.
Interestingly the film is taken from a story idea dreamt up by Altman and Balaban. One wonders if perhaps the two were inspired to create Park after watching an episode of the classic '70s British television drama Upstairs Downstairs which was about a wealthy British household whose servant class had just as many dramas as the people they served (hmm sounds familiar). Sure it's conceivable that two Americans sitting around talking about making a distinctly British movie (and a period piece to boot) could pull it off and with a tremendous talent like Altman attached you'd think it would work. But Park misses the mark. The Altman-esque qualities are all there--the way he interweaves his characters' stories and shows real people with real emotions--but maybe just maybe Altman is simply out of his element. You enjoy the ride but it's not a ride through appealing territory and you're definitely watching from the window as the characters live a life you never really become a part of.
What would the supermarket tabloids do without Whitney and Bobby? The National Enquirer's ace investigative reporters have gone to great lengths to obtain exclusive photos of the R&B power couple’s alleged "drug den," a hotel suite the pair rented for two days (while their daughter stayed in an adjacent suite).
And here’s what the Enquirer reportedly found: remnants of marijuana, rolling papers, an empty Jack Daniels bottle, 16 empty Budweiser bottles, baking soda and a spoon.
After which, the Enquirer explained the process involved in freebasing cocaine (the implication being ... well, you get the drift).
And, for readers who don't like to read, the tabloid has conveniently captured the alleged drug den artifacts in one color photo, displayed prominently in the article.
Had enough? If not, here's our Tabloid Top 10 for the week of Aug. 22-28:
1. "Natalie Cole Shocker: I Sold My Body to Buy Drugs" (Enquirer, p. 8) So says one "insider" who has read the advance manuscript to the singer’s autobiography "Angel Dust," er, that's "Angel on my Shoulder."
2. "Ted Kennedy Followed Me to the Bathroom!" (Star, p. 24) Teddy Kennedy reportedly was so "smitten" with a 23-year-old ex-intern that she had to "lock herself in the ladies' restroom to get away from him." There are photos of a portly Ted, the buxom ex-intern and a panoramic shot of the White House.
3. "I Delivered My Own baby -- By C-Section" (Enquirer, p. 18) No, we are not talking about Madonna, but an Oldham, England, woman who performed the headline deed in what the tab christened "the first do-it-yourself Cesarean section."
4. "'Empty Nest' Star's Brave Last Days" (Enquirer, p. 29) Sexagenarian sitcom actor Richard Mulligan is reportedly dying of colon cancer, and his porn star wife is nowhere in sight. Nothing funny here, but it's cool to see that ol' Bert from "Soap" is still kicking.
5. "Lost Continent of Atlantis Found 1,200 Feet Below Antarctica" (Weekly World News, p. 15) We picked this one for the artist's illustration, which looks exactly like the buried city of Pompeii, only covered in snow. Very imaginative, guys.
6. "Seer Says the Winner Is ... Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" And so does half of the free world who watches "Survivor."
Gallagher 7. "Gallagher Gets Last Laugh As He Smashes Look-Alike Brother's Career" (Enquirer, p. 1.) The watermelon-smashing guy uses the law to stop his younger bro from stealing his signature schtick. Note the eerie similarity between this story and the "Simpsons" episode where Sideshow Bob’s younger brother, Cecil, tried to take over his act on the "Krusty the Clown Show."
8. "Ever Feel Like Running Over Somebody?" (Weekly World News, p. 33) "Well, you can mow down pedestrians like flies in Brazil, and not a damn thing will happen to you!" Yeah, but gas costs $27 a gallon there.
9. "Sleeping on the Job Is Good For You" (Weekly World News, p. 11) We knew that.
10. "Revealed! Secrets of Real Mrs. Robinson" (Globe, p. 64) "The Graduate" author Charles Webb reportedly said that the diva character is based on his prep school teacher. Except for the fact tat his teacher looks like an old school marm, while Anne Bancroft was hot.
Hollywood.com's Tabloid Top 10 is a weekly rundown of the best, worst and weirdest from America's supermarket journalism.
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.