A fictional fever-dream mystery crafted loosely from the notorious still-unsolved 1947 murder of wayward wannabe starlet Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) the tale teams two rising L.A. police detectives whose bone-crunching boxing bout give them political juice—Mr. Ice cool young Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Mr. Fire hotheaded veteran Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). Both men become embroiled in and obsessed with the sick horrific crime even as Dwight falls hard for Lee’s victimized world-weary live-in love Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson)—with Lee’s unspoken approval: he’s too busy spiraling downward into a psychotic fixation with solving the murder having previously lost his sister to foul play. But Dwight’s also led astray by the more carnal temptations of voracious Madeline Sprague (Hilary Swank) the daughter of a bizarre high-society family with her own shadowy connections to the Dahlia. Sordid subplots abound simmering and swirling as in death the Black Dahlia threatens to suck everyone into an ever-widening abyss. Not entirely an epic of miscasting the film nevertheless falls short finding performers to essay Ellroy’s compelling cast: Hartnett demonstrates more depth here than in most previous efforts but comes fathoms short of the necessary mix of drive and angst to suit the complex role. Although she physically conveys a maturity beyond her years Johansson shows none of the wounded wisdom of the novel’s Kay—her seductive ethereal air would with an ebony dye job have served her far better as the Dahlia herself a cipher who becomes in the eyes of those obsessed with her whatever they dream her to be. Conversely Kirshner delivers in that elusive spectral role but the been-around-the-block-one-too-many times faded glint in her eyes would have made her a much more involving Kay. Eckhart has the spit and polish of a political-minded cop down pat but lacks the self-destructive inner fire that fuels the façade. Swank is mostly delightful by degrees—many of her choices are intriguing occasionally outrageous and give her femme fatale needed dimensions but others are overindulged. There are certainly macabre grand guignol moments in the story that make it more akin to Sunset Boulevard than its more obvious comparison Ellroy’s own L.A. Confidential but De Palma—never known for his subtlety—handles them with such an overt determined campiness any wry irony is wrung from them. The result is more of a parody—indeed an unflattering caricature—than a modern commentary on classic noir style. Add in his ceaseless camera-swooping swipes from Hitchcock and his ongoing fixation with meaningless gore—ham-fisted homages and hemorrhaging hemoglobin to ape Ellroy’s alliterative gossip-rag riffs—that distract from the intensity of the source material and all that remains is a bloody shame.
From the creators of the TNT miniseries Gettysburg including executive producer Ted Turner and writer/director Ronald F. Maxwell Gods chronicles the Civil War from its beginnings when the South rises up. Confederate General Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall) a distinguished military man but also a loyal native Virginian chooses to fight for his home rather than his country while Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) a devoutly religious man becomes Lee's most trusted lieutenant. On the other side we have Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) a professor from Maine who ends up one of the Union's finest military leaders. In between there are glimpses of the wives and families left behind. Stories of this magnitude with their dramatic bloody battles and tragic endings usually leave you numb or crying for those lives lost and destroyed. Instead Gods and Generals holds no resonance whatsoever meticulously plotting out the details and making this decisive moment in American history interminable at three and a half hours. It's like wading through a textbook--or worse watching Civil War fanatics carefully reenact the famous battle scenes on the very ground they were fought over and over again--while the players stand around quoting long-winded verse from the Bible or Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Blech.
The actors in Gods and Generals must have honestly thought they were making something important when they signed up. Main players Lang (who played Major Gen. George Pickett in Gettysburg) and Daniels (who reprises his Gettysburg role as Chamberlain) have their moments but after hearing them recite one speech after another especially Lang's Jackson who says more prayers to God than anything else you start to wonder if they ever realized they made a mistake. (Or have we for sitting through it?) One of the more superfluous scenes is when Jackson and his black cook Jim played by Frankie Faison are standing outside in the freezing cold night for about 15 minutes both looking up at the stars and praying to God. It seems like the actors are trying to make such sermonizing poignant meaningful but all this pontification simply drags the movie further down. These speeches aren't just Lang's and Daniels' territory--Mira Sorvino as Chamberlain's wife and Kali Rocha as Jackson's wife get their own personal moments in the sun too. If you count the cast of thousands each with their own things to say well you get the point. Thankfully Duvall who is the only good thing about the movie gets to keep the talking to a minimum.
If you want to see a Civil War melodrama at its best where watching the heroes race through a sacked city makes you hold your breath and witnessing horrific hospital scenes makes you squirm then watch Gone With the Wind. If you want gut-wrenching Civil War battles or more understanding of how slaves truly felt then watch Glory. If you want a heartening history lesson about the Civil War that not only teaches you about the era's political machinations but also shares the insights and thoughts of the men and women who experienced it then watch Ken Burns' documentary series The Civil War. Gods and Generals offers none of that in its dry textbook version of the Civil War which uses the same shots are used over and over again (how many times does the camera pan up to the night sky or show the panoramic view of Fredericksburg Virginia? I lost count) features more actors waxing prophetic than real drama and actually makes you yawn during what should be intense battle scenes.
Suburban teens should help cut "Urban Legends: Final Cut" the biggest slice of box office pie this weekend.
"'Urban Legends' can actually do double digits," one insider observes. "It'll be nice to see that again, won't it?"
"Urban," an R-rated horror sequel opening from Columbia Pictures at 2,539 theaters, is heading for first place with $12-13 million.
"Teens, particularly, have to be hungry for something to go see," says a distribution executive. "I think it's got a shot at $12 million."
Directed by John Ottman, "Urban" stars Jennifer Morrison.
Second place should go to DreamWorks and Columbia's critically-acclaimed "Almost Famous," which will expand to about 1,200 theaters in its second week. The R-rated comedy drama should do $7-8 million.
"They're in theaters where it ought to do business," a source says of the film's strong launch at 131 theaters last weekend. "They're upscale, limited, big city (theaters) and, boy, if this movie doesn't do it there, where will it do it? This weekend will be the first indication of whether the movie plays in the heartland."
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, "Famous" stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand.
Driven by "Urban" and "Famous," the weekend should be a big improvement over last weekend when key films only took in about $47.4 million.
"Well, that's like being the tallest building in Wichita, Kansas," laughs one insider. "It'll be better than the worst weekend in three years!"
Warner Bros.' reissue of its R-rated 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" should turn enough ticket buyers' heads to finish third. Arriving at 664 theaters, it should nail down $6-7 million.
Directed by William Friedkin, "Exorcist" stars Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Max von Sydow.
Universal and Beacon Pictures' PG-13-rated comedy "Bring It On" should drop one peg to fourth place in its fifth week. Last weekend "Bring" did $5.1 million and was only off 25 percent. If it takes another 25 percent drop, it will do about $4 million.
"Bring," which only cost Universal about $10 million, has grossed over $51 million and is heading for $60 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Peyton Reed, "Bring" stars Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dusku, Jesse Bradford and Gabrielle Union.
Universal's R-rated psychological thriller "The Watcher" should slip four slots to fifth place in its third week with $3-4 million.
"Watcher," which Universal reportedly picked up from Interlight for only $5 million, has grossed over $17 million and is heading for $25 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joe Charbanic, "Watcher" stars James Spader, Marisa Tomei and Keanu Reeves.
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's R-rated action comedy "Bait" should sink four pegs to sixth place in its second week with a gross that's also in the $3-4 million range.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, "Bait" stars Jamie Foxx.
USA Films' R-rated dark comedy "Nurse Betty" was fourth last weekend with $4.7 million, a drop of 35 percent. If it falls 35 percent this time around, it should place seventh with about $3 million.
Universal owns "Nurse Betty," having acquired it when the studio took over PolyGram. Universal turned the specialized picture over to USA Films to market and distribute.
Directed by Neil La Bute, "Nurse" stars Morgan Freeman, Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock and Greg Kinnear.
The weekend's other wide opening, Fox Searchlight Pictures' R-rated romantic comedy "Woman On Top," won't come in anywhere near the top of the chart.
"Woman," arriving at 1,000-plus theaters, appears headed for eighth place with a modest $2-3 million.
Directed by Fina Torres, "Woman" stars Penelope Cruz.
Filling out lower rungs: "Space Cowboys," "The Cell," and "What Lies Beneath."
This weekend will also see 20th Century Fox's limited release of its PG-13-rated drama "The Dancer" in New York and Los Angeles.
Directed by Fred Garson, "Dancer" stars Mia Frye and Josh Lucas.
Lions Gate Films' R-rated drama "Under Suspicion" opens exclusive engagements in New York and L.A.
Directed by Stephen Hopkins, "Suspicion" stars Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman.
MGM's release of United Artists' PG-rated musical drama "The Fantasticks" opens exclusively in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.
Directed by Michael Ritchie, it stars Joel Grey and Barnard Hughes.