The record of rappers becoming actors is decidedly mixed. Eminem drew praise for his semi-autobiographical turn in 8 Mile while his Detroit neighbor Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson was largely panned for his work in his 2005 biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Ice Cube and Ice T have both earned steady paychecks and occasional acclaim on the big and small screens while the less-esteemed member of the Brothers Ice Vanilla never quite recovered from 1991‘s disastrous Cool as Ice.
Two of the latest hip-hoppers to attempt the leap Chris Brown and Tip “T.I.” Harris can both be seen in the heist thriller Takers. They also served as producers on the film and in that regard they deserve credit for helping assemble a cast that quite effectively lowers the bar for their acting work. In an ensemble that includes the likes of Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen they needn’t worry about issuing Oscar-worthy performances. As long as they’re semi-ambulatory they stand a fairly good chance of keeping pace with Takers’ slow-moving herd.
The film’s plot concerns a swaggering crew of bank robbers whose sophisticated methods have enabled them to pull off a number of high-stakes heists with nary a hitch. Their strict adherence to a one-job-per-year schedule is enough to fund a luxurious lifestyle in which they freely indulge their tastes for fancy cars tailored suits single-malt scotch and big cigars (No King Cobra and Swisher Sweets for these classy gents. No siree.) All of which is fastidiously depicted by director John Luessenhop (Lockdown) whose aesthetic sensibility in Takers varies between hip-hop video and Maker’s Mark ad.
And they’re decent civic-minded folks too: Jake (Michael Ealy) is eager to leave the game and settle down with his fiance (Zoe Saldana) the proprietor of a trendy downtown L.A. cocktail lounge; his brother Jesse (Brown) wants to ensure their elderly father is taken care of upon his release from prison; proper English chap Gordon (Idris Elba the lone standout) faithfully shepherds his junkie sister through rehab; John’s (Walker) moral compass won’t allow for shooting cops or unarmed civilians; and A.J. (Christensen) is a talented pianist whose bowler hat and hoarse hepcat diction are I can only assume indicative of a deep appreciation for jazz-age style.
But for all the gang’s obvious intelligence their judgment of character is appallingly poor. When a shady former associate named Ghost (T.I. — which after watching the film I now realize stands for "Totally Incoherent") comes to them with a suspiciously lucrative new opportunity he claims to have hatched during a recent jail stint the fellas need all of a nanosecond to sign on to the dubious scheme forsaking all of the rules that made them successful. Why they’d place their livelihoods on the line for an ex-con who can’t be bothered to raise his eyelids above half-mast or pronounce consonants appearing at the end of words like “love” (which his lazy twang renders “luh”) is beyond me but it’s the first of several missteps that open the door for Detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) an old-school cop who refuses allow a crumbling marriage chronic sleep deprivation or established caselaw involving warrants and Miranda rights to deter him in his dogged pursuit of justice.
Takers features a smattering of the expected twists and turns most of which are sufficiently telegraphed by Luessenhop’s direction which downshifts to slow-motion at the advent of every action sequence and the film’s predictable story arc. What is surprising about the film is its lack of verve an absolute must for a heist flick and something which even the worst of the Ocean’s films boasted. For all of its bullets and bling Takers all too often feels as lethargic as its co-producer and co-star T.I. looks. (Although to be fair Dillon appears at times to be sleep-walking as well.)
In true straightforward comic-book style TMNT starts with a brief backstory (without the laborious explanation on why four turtles and a rat become human-like in the first place) and then launches into the heart of the movie. After the defeat of their old arch nemesis The Shredder the Turtles—fun-lovin’ Michelangelo (Mikey Kelly) tech guru Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) hotheaded Raphael (Nolan North) and pragmatic leader Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor)--have grown apart as a family. While Leo is off honing his craft the turtles no longer fight crime--except Raphael who still fights crime under the pseudonym Nightwatcher. Struggling to keep them together is their rat sensei Master Splinter (the late Mako). But strange things are brewing. Tech-industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) is amassing an army of ancient monsters to apparently take over the world. With the help of old allies April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Chris Evans) the Turtles finally come together as brothers to fight the good fight and once again face the mysterious Foot Clan who have put their own ninja skills behind Winters' endeavors. As opposed to hiring just A-list actors TMNT is a nice eclectic mix of veteran voice-over artists who give the Turtles their voices and regular actors such as Gellar Stewart and Evans. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s Ziyi Zhang also gets in on the action providing the voice of the Foot Clan leader Karai who was once an enemy of the Turtles but now sees the value in what they do. Of course there isn’t a Robin Williams or Ben Stiller to laugh with but Kelly is pretty funny as Michelangelo who has had to resort to entertaining kids at birthday parties as “Cowabunga Carl ” a clown-for-hire in a “fake” turtle suit. It will all depend on whether those ninja-fightin’ pizza-eatin’ giant turtles still have a monetary appeal but methinks a new TMNT movie franchise has been born. The comic book was created in 1984 by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman as a spoof to the superhero stories and quickly took off into merchandising heaven with a toy license and then a television series. The original 1990 live-action movie used state-of-the-art animatronics but somehow felt static and fake. Since the last TMNT movie in 1993 the whole Turtle phenomenon has sort of fallen off the radar at least in the U.S. so the time was ripe for a renovation. Using the innovative CGI we know and love this new TMNT--created by a team of animators from California and Hong Kong under the watchful direction of Kevin Munroe--gives the Turtles not to mention all the otherworldly monsters they have to fight a realistic look and feel. With this kind of freedom the film can focus on the action which is the best part of the TMNT lore. Though the demographics may skew male ages 8-11 (as well as those 8-to-11-year-old boys who loved it back in the day and are now grown men) TMNT is just your basic supercharged animated fun.
With four days left before his execution notoriously reticent death row inmate David Gale (Kevin Spacey) decides at last to share his story with the press. He chooses as his vessel reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) who's just spent a week in the slammer for refusing to reveal her sources on a kiddie porn cover story. As Gale's story unfolds (and we see it in flashback) Bitsey becomes convinced he's innocent and she and her intern Zack (Gabriel Mann) begin a race against the clock to discover the truth that will save him. Sound like an overblown blurb from a movie studio's press files? Apologies for that but the best way to talk about this story's climactic points is to resort to hyperbolic clichés of this ilk--the movie's key moments are without exception melodramatic and overblown. Nonetheless most of the movie is suspenseful the story has several interesting (I wouldn't go so far as compelling) twists and there are plenty of reasons to root for Gale's cause especially if like him and admittedly like me you're a political liberal who fancies yourself at least somewhat intellectual.
If there's one thing that defines Kevin Spacey's acting style it's his unparalleled ability to discourse at length on philosophical minutiae a gift that undoubtedly contributed to his getting this role in the first place. But Spacey gets to stretch a bit more playing Gale--the professorial character in his pre-death row life was a loose cannon even by academia's standards: he partied with his students talked about fantasy and desire in class and belonged to Death Watch a liberal advocacy group opposed to the death penalty. Beyond that his personal life was a disaster. His wife was having an affair with a Spaniard Gale was a borderline alcoholic and his ego was the size of a generously proportioned watermelon. So there are plenty of challenges for Spacey in the part--both in the flashbacks and the death row sequences--and he obviously embraces them all; unfortunately sometimes he squeezes the life out of them in the process foregoing for example the tragic nuances of real alcoholism for the stumbling sobriquets of an overblown town-drunk philosopher. The equally gifted Laura Linney as Constance--Gale's stalwart friend fellow professor co-director of Death Watch and alleged murder victim--finds herself in less familiar territory. Her character is complex yet remarkably one-dimensional for most of the movie which leaves the talented actress turning--albeit reluctantly--to melodrama for support. Winslet too is on unfamiliar ground with an American accent (quite well done old chap-ette) a mission and a bitchiness that's too little seen from this pristine young girl.
It's truly unfortunate that director Alan Parker didn't keep a tighter handle on The Life of David Gale's more dramatic moments since had they come off better this would have been a more even and generally more watchable film. As it is each of the talented lead actors has a scene in which they really let loose on the hysterical wailing waterworks--Winslet lucky gal has two. They may not be bad enough to make you cringe necessarily but they're obviously overplayed. The film would have benefited from a wail-o-meter that would have allowed the bawling to go so far and only so far. All that aside though this film is ultimately less melodramatic than its equivalent TV movie version would have (and probably has) been--and that leads me to my final point. The Life of David Gale is about what TV pundits would call a hot-button issue and while the public is intelligent enough not to be emotionally swayed by the hue and cry of activists on either side of the argument we can--and by God we will--be entertained by it. So I just want to say thank you Hollywood for once again one-upping the 6 o'clock news and for showing that even discussions of the most important issues of our time can be squeezed into a two-hour movie and manipulated in the interests of suspense and drama.
Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is a young high-powered Wall Street attorney working for his father-in-law's firm. On Good Friday Banek is on FDR Drive on his way to court for a probate case involving a multimillion-dollar trust when he gets distracted on his cell phone. One lane over is Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson) an insurance company representative and recovering alcoholic. His wife has divorced him and is planning on leaving New York with their two boys for a job in Portland Ore. unless he can convince a family court judge otherwise. He's practicing his speech on his way to court and while switching lanes doesn't notice Banek's silver Mercedes crossing over. The two cars sideswipe each other. Banek is too impatient to trade insurance information and peels off in his car with a cocky "Better luck next time." What he doesn't realize is that he has left a crucial file in the hands of Gibson who is left standing on a median next to his broken car in a downpour. When Banek's attempt to get the file back fails the two men engage in a bitter war of revenge.
Ben Affleck (Pearl Harbor) plays lawyer Gavin Banek a man quickly disillusioned not only by his profession but to a certain extent life. Banek is a complex character: Underneath the arrogance he displays at the start of the film is a nice guy who grapples with issues like everyone else. With every devious move is a bout of guilt and Affleck does a great job reflecting that in his character. Samuel L. Jackson (The Caveman's Valentine) is equally impressive as Doyle Gibson a recovered alcoholic trying to win back his family. Jackson plays Gibson's character with such earnestness you may find yourself taking his side. Both Affleck and Jackson handle their characters' duality delicately and convincingly. The supporting cast members also deliver superior performances especially Toni Collette (Shaft) who plays Banek's co-worker mistress--and ironically--his moral compass and Sydney Pollack (Random Hearts) his corrupt father-in-law and boss. Also look for good performances from William Hurt (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence) and Amanda Peet (Saving Silverman).
In his screenwriting debut Chap Taylor delivers a blunt and hauntingly realistic portrait of what happens when two decent guys are suddenly backed into corners. The story's intensity mounts almost inconspicuously as the two men carry on their hostilities swapping offensive and defensive positions as they try to destroy each other. This aspect of the film not only makes the characters more relatable but it also builds suspense. Each time one of them is ready to end the petty quarrel he receives a blow from the other which in turn makes them both more vengeful. Because the film takes place in one day director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) takes advantage of the time element in the film--a crucial component. With each threat for example is an or else: "It will take me half an hour to get to my bank " Gibson tells Banek when the cards are in his favor. "If my credit's not on by the time I get there I'll destroy the file." Changing Lanes effectively portrays characters that are not all bad and not all good--something many recent films have attempted to do unsuccessfully.
Singer-actress Courtney Love is being sued for failing to pay more than $40,000 in rent for a Vancouver home she rented while working in the on the film 24 Hours, The Associated Press reports. Love was to pay owner Peter Ashby $26,500 for a period from April 20 through June 7, with a $15,000 deposit. In a statement, Love said the agreement was subject to her approval of the home, which she had not seen. The singer and her daughter moved out after one day, saying the mansion was too big and had too many stairs. She has asked the court to dismiss the legal action.
Radio personality Garrison Keillor had surgery Wednesday for a common valve repair and is expected to make a full recovery, AP reports. Keillor, 58, has hosted A Prairie Home Companion on Minnesota Public Radio since the show began airing in 1974. Keillor also is the author of several books and hosts the daily five-minute radio show The Writer's Almanac.
Charlton Heston and science fiction writer Ray Bradbury are trying to save the Cinerama in Omaha, Neb., from demolition, AP reports. The Indian Hills Theater was built in 1962, but costs to renovate it would be too high. The Methodist Health System bought the bankrupt theater and intends to turn it into a parking lot for its nearby nursing college. Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh, Patricia Neal and film critic Leonard Maltin also have joined forces to save the theater, which is still capable of showing films on its 70-foot-wide, curved, floor-to-ceiling screen.
Singer-actress Jennifer Lopez is in talks to star in a modern Cinderella tale by director John Hughes, Variety reports. Hughes will write and produce the romantic comedy for Revolution Studios and could begin filming in 2002. Lopez will play a young dreamer who gets a job as a chambermaid in a luxury hotel, meets a British chap and falls in love. Hilary Swank was originally set to star in the project.
Musicians Moby, Beastie Boys, Alanis Morissette, the Dave Matthews Band, Tom Petty, Trey Anastasio, Jackson Brown and James Taylor have formed a coalition named the New Power Project to urge the president to develop a more responsible energy policy, Rolling Stone magazine reports. The group plans to use their tours and Web sites to educate listeners about oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic Wildlife Refuge and renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy. They also will circulate petitions to be sent to congress and the Bush administration. More information is available at www.saveourenvironment.org.
Rapper Eminem and Australian Prime Minister John Howard are involved in a war of words, BBC News reports. The feud erupted after the rapper's first show in Melbourne, Australia, when he joked to an audience that he wanted to buy a house and move to the continent, but that he didn't think the prime minister would like it. Howard warned that Eminem was still on probation and could be thrown out by immigration ministers. He has publicly said he does not like Eminem's music or lyrics, and the illusions to violence that are involved in his performance.
Mark Wahlberg wants to help inner-city youths stay out of trouble, AP reports. On Thursday, Wahlberg announced that the Mark Wahlberg Foundation would raise and distribute funds to youth service programs. The actor credits the Col. Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club in the Boston's Dorchester neighborhood for helping him turn his life around.
Volume.com will feature an exclusive webcast of a Mos Def benefit concert with Jack Johnson, starting July 27. Filmed at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, features Mos Def and his new group Jack Johnson with members of Living Colour and P-Funk and includes performances of Ms. Fat Booty and Umi Says. Information and registration for the exclusive webcast is available at http://www.volume.com/mosdef. The concert will be available online through August.
Chap Taylor has written screenplays for all of the major studios and for such producers as Brian Grazer, Scott Rudin, Irwin Winkler and Arnold Kopelson. He co-wrote the 2002 Paramount release Changing Lanes, starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. He did uncredited work on National Treasure, Behind Enemy Lines and the remake of the horror classic, The Omen. He most recently adapted the best seller Gideon's Sword for Michael Bay at Paramount. He is currently developing an action-drama for the FX cable network and created the comic book series Haunted City, which is being developed as both a feature film franchise and a television series with director/producer McG