Don’t talk to New York tabloid reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry) about ethics. Anything goes when it comes to making the front page especially if it means exposing an influential politician’s hypocritical stand on gay marriage. Even when that story is spiked and she quits her job in protest Price doesn’t think twice about going undercover to track down the killer of a childhood friend. See Price’s deceased gal pal was ready to reveal all about her bedroom antics with the very married and the very unfaithful advertising hotshot Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Even a lowly editorial assistant would point a finger at Hill as the likely culprit--but forget going to the cops. Price and fellow muckraker Miles Hailey (Giovanni Ribisi) set out to get the dirt on Hill by any means necessary. Pretending to be a temp in Hill’s office our intrepid reporter and her partially unbuttoned blouse catch her horny new boss’s eye quicker than you can say “Take a letter Miss Price.” If seducing Hill means bringing him to justice Price is prepared to lie back and think of the Pulitzer Prize she’s so desperate to win. Oh doesn’t this have all the makings of a guilty pleasure? If only. Perfect Stranger harks back to the bad old pre-Oscar days of Swordfish when Berry reportedly received a $500 000 bonus to doff her top. Director James Foley obviously didn’t have that kind of money to pay Berry to show more skin than she does in Perfect Stranger. But she does spend much of her time sashaying through Perfect Stranger like a Pussycat Doll posing as an office temp. Then again the 40-year-old Berry could go undercover as Ugly Betty and still get her boss all hot under his collar. Unfortunately Berry seems more concerned with turning heads than making us feel connected to Price or concerned for her safety. For a woman who purportedly is dedicated to seeking out the truth Price is a nasty piece of work whose ambition and methods will only confirm the public’s suspicions that journalists have no scruples. No wonder the equally slimy Hill drools all over her. But save for one late-night rendezvous that’s admittedly fraught with sexual tension Bruce Willis just doesn’t seem all that into Berry. Check that man’s pulse stat! Then again Willis barely has any fun with the scenery-chewing role of the power-hungry white-collar womanizer that’s usually reserved for Michael Douglas. The same can’t be said for Giovanni Ribisi who’s downright manic but thoroughly entertaining as the computer geek with a stalker-like crush on Price. Shifting easily from funny to creepy in the blink of an eye Ribisi is the only reason Perfect Stranger is marginally better than the usual commingling of blood and bodily fluids found on Cinemax after midnight. Most of the enjoyment derived from sitting through such a sordid affair as Perfect Stranger comes from playing armchair detective. But director James Foley—working from a grubby and foulmouthed script by Todd Komarnicki and Jon Bokenkamp that pilfers the best and the worst of Basic Instinct et al.—shamelessly and regretfully deprives us of that pleasure. He simply refuses to provide any clues as to the killer’s identity. While all roads lead to Hill the evidence is circumstantial at best. So when Perfect Stranger slowly and uneventfully reaches its ludicrously orchestrated and highly implausible climatic confrontation with the killer you feel cheated that you had absolutely no chance of being able to distinguish the guilty party from the many red herrings. If that’s not enough Perfect Stranger is all talk and no action. There’s the promise of plenty of hot and sweaty sex including some girl-on-girl action with Hill’s overprotective personal assistant that would have allowed Price to snuggle up closer to her quarry. But when all is said and done Perfect Stranger turns out to be perfectly prudish when it comes to doing the dirty deed. And there’s less flesh than an episode of your favorite daytime soap opera. Unfortunately that leaves you stuck listening to a lot of filthy chatter that is never as crudely inventive or unintentionally hilarious as the tête-à-têtes between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. If only Stone’s Catherine Tramell had taken an ice pick to this Perfect Stranger.
Five downcast vignettes--with minimal female-centric titles like "The Mother" and "The Wife"--punctuate the titular Dead Girl ’s (Brittany Murphy) demise. The five stories seem barely tangential though all tell a larger story of Krista's sudden death and its impact on the community. The other stories--one of a forensics graduate student (Rose Byrne) with a missing sister another of a sexually abused prostitute (Kerry Washington)--introduce unhappy women struggling with their lives. The film gives glimpses of an American society chock-full of emotionally ravaged women "dead" in some way. We don't meet prostitute Krista until the final act when in Spun-era grubby mode she is trying with plucky desperation to traverse L.A. for her infant daughter's birthday. The Dead Girl ends abruptly and after five mysterious 20-minute vignettes we're left wanting more but the film's resonance for its grim fatalism lingers in the mind. Many of the ensemble's characters are gorgeously conceived framed for a wide audience like a major-studio film but played with independent verve. Murphy--after dim-witted grating turns in Little Black Book and Uptown Girls--is dead center. She is spitfire and brimstone as a heartbroken prostitute alienated from her 3-year-old daughter and family. Josh Brolin is deliciously detestable as Krista's controlling uncaring trick. Mary Beth Hurt (Lady in the Water) is haunting as the wife of a potential murderer. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden is understated as Krista's mother as professionally adept as we've come to expect. Too many talented actors share the screen in fact. Giovanni Ribisi Toni Collette and Mary Steenburgen are all piercingly intense in brief roles while plentiful Oscar nominees such as Piper Laurie and Bruce Davison decorate the The Dead Girl like window dressing. Karen Moncrieff (Blue Car) talks in interviews of serving as a juror on a prostitute's murder trial several years ago. The experience influenced her to write and direct The Dead Girl. The devastation Moncrieff felt--the real-life victim's last belongings included a "ratty duffel bag" and hand puppet--allowed her to extrapolate into a 93-minute movie about the commonness of women's struggles. The Dead Girl is a bit too slight as a film though short on running time and resulting impact. Although shorter films are generally more user-friendly (in an era of the 138-minute Blood Diamond and the like) this one has the complexity that could have merited fuller character development. The Dead Girl at its worst can feel like so many of its independent film counterparts: moody misunderstood me-first and judgmental. At its best The Dead Girl nominated for a 2007 Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature is fantastic.
September 16, 2004 12:22pm EST
In 1930s New York Chronicle investigative reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a lead on a story she's been covering about prominent scientists from around the world who are mysteriously disappearing. When Manhattan is attacked by giant robots Polly reluctantly seeks the help of an old flame ace aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to get the scoop and find out who's behind these strange events and discovers an Oppenheimer-type science man named Dr. Totenkopf has abducted the scientists in a mad bid to build a doomsday device to annihilate what he believes to be an already damned human race. Assisted by Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) who runs a secret mobile airstrip thousands of feet in the air Sky Captain and Polly head out to stop Totenkopf and save mankind. How could such a visually dazzling film where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of three dashing Hollywood stars be so ... unexciting? Much stronger storylines could have evolved from supporting players Dex Sky's right-hand man (Giovanni Ribisi) and especially daredevil Franky and her amphibious squadron all of which are used too sparingly throughout the film.
Paltrow in the lead role of Polly completely captures the witty rapid-fire dialogue of the era immortalized by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. But while her performance is nearly flawless Polly's self-centeredness turns the would-be heroine into an antagonist; it's hard to like a character who can't put humanity's needs before her own career ambitions. Polly's rabble-rouser persona should bring some exciting tension between her character and Sky Captain's Boy Scout guise but it doesn't--in fact there's a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. But Law's performance as Sky Captain brilliantly matches Paltrow's as the actor encompasses the new-yet-old type of movie hero one more suave than macho. Less platonic however is the on-screen relationship between Law's Sky and Jolie's Franky. The script's purposefully ambiguous take on the characters' history adds spice to the film's otherwise bland relationships. It's too bad Jolie's performance probably the highlight of the film isn't brought more to the forefront. Ribisi injects some light comedy to the heavy story and Omid Djalili impresses as Kaji a friend of Sky Captain's who helps them during a leg of their journey to find Totenkopf. To their tremendous credit all the cast members delivered seamless performances especially considering all their scenes were shot in one room using a blue screen.
The production behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is what this film is really all about. Based on a six-minute test reel created on his home Mac writer/director Kerry Conran was able to nab studio backing and secure major names--not shabby for one's feature debut. The final product delivers too--a retro sci-fi picture where nearly everything onscreen except for the actors was painstakingly computer generated in post-production. It's amazing how the actors blend flawlessly into the film's animatic backdrops. Every shot makes the most of its visual effects and the film has a dark and dramatic comic book feel a sort of Gotham meets War of the Worlds. Conrad pays homage to literary masters such as H.G. Wells New York's 1939 World's Fair and films including The Wizard of Oz: Sky Captain tracks down Totenkopf like Dorothy searched for her sorcerer and although they are not in Kansas and there is no yellow brick road there is a mysterious genius hiding behind the curtain. But unlike Wizard of Oz Sky Captain doesn't hold its momentum. There's a chase scene for example that goes on way longer than it should have and an overly weighted storyline about Polly and Sky Captain's defunct love affair. Did he cheat on her when they were together years ago? Did she sabotage his airplane? Who cares! Luckily the ending somewhat redeems the story thanks to a couple of surprising little twists.
According to a TV Guide poll, fans want Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears to move on in their love lives--meaning no going back to Sean "P. Diddy" Combs or Justin Timberlake, girls. Now that Lopez has split from her husband, Cris Judd, 73 percent of those polled don't want to see Lopez return to Combs, while 59 percent hopes Spears moves past Timberlake.
The Lord of the Rings star Sir Ian McKellen and actress Sharon Gless of Showtime's Queer As Folk fame will act as the grand marshals of San Francisco's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Parade on Sunday, July 7. They'll ride in a pink Cadillac.
Woody Harrelson is off the hook--for now. The London taxi driver who claimed the actor trashed the inside of his cab last month has dropped the charges, according to Reuters. Harrelson's alleged odd behavior in the cab was followed by a chase through the streets of London, where police finally apprehended the Cheers star. Harrelson was reported to have paid the taxi driver $800.
Comedian Chris Rock and his wife welcomed their first child, daughter Lola Simone, on Friday in New York.
Tom Arnold, the host of Fox Sports Net's Best Damn Sports Show Period and the man formerly married to Roseanne, has gotten hitched again. On Saturday, June 29, he wed girlfriend Shelby Roos at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson was the victim of a home burglary in the posh Notting Hill district of London, Scotland Yard revealed on Monday. Apparently, the robbery happened on May 23, and an investigation is being carried out. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman would not give any details "at the victim's request" on what was stolen, Reuters reports.
Fans of the late martial arts great Bruce Lee may be pleased to learn that American Movie Classics will be airing a documentary about him, Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey, Tuesday night. In it, 33 minutes of finished footage from Lee's last film, Game of Death, will be shown, presented according to an original outline by Lee. The film was released in 1978, five years after Lee's death at age 32, but some considered it a joke because he appeared in only 11 minutes of the film.
More celebs are joining folk singer Bob Dylan on his first foray into acting. Ed Harris and Giovanni Ribisi have joined the cast of Masked & Anonymous, about a wandering troubadour/ex-con who performs one last concert. Other cast members include Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett and Jeff Bridges.
Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon are looking to work together in Clint Eastwood's new film Mystic River. Eastwood will direct the film, about three childhood friends brought together after 25 years when the daughter of one of the friends is murdered.
George Michael is back--large and in charge. His latest song, "Shoot the Dog," released Monday, is a political satire and by far his most controversial yet: He describes British Prime Minister Tony Blair as President George Bush's poodle. Nice image.
You won't be hearing the name Steven Soderbergh at this year's Independent Spirit Awards.
Instead, try Miguel Arteta, Darren Aronofsky and Kenneth Lonergan -- whose "Chuck & Buck," "Requiem for a Dream," and "You Can Count On Me," respectively, have nabbed a field-best five nominations each at the 16th Annual Independent Spirit Awards.
"Chuck & Buck" -- the second full-length feature from Arteta -- was nominated for best feature under $500,000, screenplay, director, supporting female (Lupe Ontiveros) and debut performance (Mike White).
Among "Requiem's" nominations are best director (Darren Aronofsky) and best feature. The drug-addiction flick will go up against "Before Night Falls," "George Washington," "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in the best film column.
"You Can Count On Me" will run in the categories for best first feature, screenplay, male lead (Mark Ruffalo), female lead (Laura Linney) and debut performance (Rory Culkin).
"George Washington" and "Before Night Falls" garnered four noms apiece.
The nominations were announced at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The winners will be announced March 24, a day before the Academy Awards, at a ceremony held at a large tent by the Santa Monica beach.
Here's a list of all the nominees.
"Before Night Falls"
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"
"Requiem for a Dream" BEST DIRECTOR
Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon")
Christopher Guest ("Best in Show")
Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for A Dream")
Julian Schnabel ("Before Night Falls")
Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck BEST SCREENPLAY
Valerie Breiman ("Love & Sex")
Raymond De Felitta ("Two Family House")
Robert Dillon ("Waking the Dead") Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me") Mike White ("Chuck & Buck") BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Love & Basketball"
"You Can Count On Me" BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
David Gordon Green ("George Washington") Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther ("Tigerland") Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") Jordan Walker-Pearlman ("The Visit") Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") BEST FEATURE - UNDER $500,000
"Chuck & Buck"
"Everything Put Together"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Rory Culkin ("You Can Count on Me")
Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight") Emmy Rossum ("Songcatcher") Mike White, ("Chuck & Buck") Ensemble -- Candace Evanofski, Curtis Cotton III, Damian Jewan Lee, Donald Holden, Rachael Handy ("George Washington") BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Pat Carroll ("Songcatcher")
Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem for a Dream")
Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock")
Lupe Ontiveros ("Chuck & Buck")
Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire")
Cole Hauser ("Tigerland")
Gary Oldman ("The Contender")
Giovanni Ribisi ("The Gift")
Billy Dee Williams ("The Visit") BEST FEMALE LEAD
Joan Allen ("The Contender")
Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream")
Sanaa Lathan ("Love & Basketball")
Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me")
Kelly MacDonald ("Two Family House") BEST MALE LEAD
Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls")
Adrien Brody ("Restaurant")
Billy Crudup ("Jesus' Son")
Hill Harper ("The Visit")
Mark Ruffalo ("You Can Count on Me") BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lou Bogue ("Shadow of the Vampire")
John De Borman ("Hamlet")
Matthew Libatique ("Requiem for a Dream")
Tim Orr ("George Washington")
Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas ("Before Night Falls") BEST FOREIGN FILM
"Dancer in the Dark"
"In the Mood for Love"
"A Time for Drunken Horses"
"The War Zone" BEST DOCUMENTARY
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
"Long Night's Journey Into Day"
Sound and Fury"