In the political thriller The Ides of March – George Clooney’s adaptation of the stage drama Farragut North – Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers campaign press secretary to Mike Morris (Clooney) a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Savvy self-assured and blessed with a preternatural ability to spin a story in his candidate’s favor Stephen is a fast-rising figure with a dazzlingly bright future. Unlike his more seasoned – and cynical – campaign-manager boss Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Stephen all of 30 years old still boasts something of an idealistic streak. He believes in Morris not just as a meal ticket but as someone who just might make the world a better place.
Stephen’s idealism and ambition come into conflict when in the feverish days leading up to the pivotal Ohio primary he suffers a series of judgment lapses that threaten to derail his promising career. Teased with the prospect of a job offer he’s lured into a meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) the campaign manager of Morris’ main Democratic rival – a major no-no in a business that prizes loyalty above all else. Later he beds a beguiling young intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) who unwittingly drops a bombshell that could very well bring down the entire Morris campaign.
There’s nothing particularly revelatory about Ides of March. Our eyes were long ago opened to the amorality and viciousness of electoral politics. And goodness knows we’ve witnessed political scandals far more salacious than anything depicted in the film. Ides of March’s strength lies in the power of its storytelling in the way that Clooney brings together several distinctive headstrong characters and sets them against each other in a riveting game of intrigue. It helps compensate for the been-there done-that familiarity of the topics explored.
Clooney is very much an actor’s director and Ides of March is a testament to how absorbing it can be to witness skilled performers operating at the peak of their powers. Gosling is particularly fascinating to watch as his character awakens to the severity of his predicament. When Stephen is dismissed from the Morris campaign after Zara learns of his meeting with Duffy the firing triggers in him something akin to a fight-or-flight instinct. His livelihood endangered he scrambles to outwit his former colleagues seizing upon tragedy and scandal to worm his way back into the fold. All pretense of idealism vanishes and his expression betrays the slightest hint of derangement. The game has claimed him.
What I’ve always admired about Adrien Brody is his project-choosing process. He takes on big studio flicks like King Kong and Predators from time to time but for the most part he’s a maverick sticking to independent or avant-garde fare in which he’s able to express himself with artistic integrity through unorthodox narratives. Such is the case in Wrecked his new film that sounds like Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours on paper but is far more disconcerting than that true tale of survival.
The story begins at the bottom of a featureless ravine inside a broken-down car that’s apparently been run off the road. In the passenger seat is an unnamed Man (Brody) who is trapped in shotgun while the body of a stranger rots in the backseat. Adding to this disturbing scenario is memory loss – the Man can’t recall how he got there or who he is. As dehydration starvation and exhaustion set in the line between reality and delusion blurs and the audience goes on a strange trip of rediscovery with the enigmatic prisoner.
While the linchpin in Boyle’s film is James Franco’s performance Wrecked relies more on the atmospheric direction of Michael Greenspan who makes his feature debut with this surreal picture. That’s not to say that Brody doesn’t deliver an unnerving portrayal of a man in a grave situation. As he moans and writhes in and out of his seat you can’t help sympathizing with him though screenwriter Christopher Dodd concocts a backstory that removes whatever remorse you had for him at times while piquing your curiosity at others. He heightens the anxiety of the unknown with a spooky score longer-than-average shots and a few bizarre situations. The natural environments and minimalist screenplay aid the filmmaker in creating his eerie tone despite the picturesque setting which would be calming if not for some perplexing hallucinations related to the Man’s past predicament.
Unfortunately the bare bones script is also the biggest problem with Wrecked as the film like its protagonist doesn’t really go anywhere. The revelations come far too quickly resulting in a boring anti-climactic effect. Even though there’s some distressing fun to be had while getting to the finish line it’s a sterilized psychological thriller that brings to mind films like Brad Anderson’s The Machinist but fails to achieve that level of ambiguous magnetism.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
When all-American girl Susan Murphy is inadvertently hit by a falling meteor on her wedding day she grows to be nearly 50 feet tall. The U.S. military gets wind of this renames her Ginormica and locks her away with a slacker group of other “monsters” in a top-secret compound. But when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and begins wreaking havoc these good-hearted but inept creatures are called into action by the President and must band together as a team to save the world from certain catastrophe.
WHO’S IN IT?
As usual Dreamworks has assembled a stellar A-list voice cast led by Reese Witherspoon as Susan/Ginormica. Playing one of the rare female animated heroes Witherspoon’s sweet/confused demeanor — in light of her highly unusual status as a fearsome freakazoid — hits just the right tone generously letting her zanier colleagues steal scenes from right under her (a long way down by the way). Chief among these are a not-so-bright gelatinous blue mass named B.O.B. hilariously voiced by Seth Rogen; the genius Dr. Cockroach Ph.D in the capable hands of House doc Hugh Laurie; and Will Arnett’s half-ape half-fish The Missing Link. In the human roles there’s Stephen Colbert as the idiotic U.S. President Kiefer Sutherland as the monster’s prison guardian Paul Rudd as the ego-driven weatherman fiancé of Susan; and a deliciously villainous Rainn Wilson as Galaxhar the alien determined to take over Earth.
Superb 3-D effects aren’t overdone and add immeasurably to the ginormous fun of the film but even seeing it in theaters that only show it in regular 2-D doesn’t spoil the pure joy of this cartoonish War of the Worlds. Throw in parodies of every cheap '50s sci-fi movie you can think of and you have the ingredients for a silly monster mash sure to appeal to just about anyone who wants to laugh. Despite the impressive production elements it’s the smart and clever script that really sets it apart from its competitors — and that even includes the similar Monsters Inc. from Pixar.
Like any kid-oriented comic ‘toon today the action can be a bit too frenetic and Monsters vs. Aliens piles a lot of it on in its trim 95 minutes. Still the lovable characters carry the day and somehow make it all palatable.
When Susan now Ginormica brings her new friends home to meet her parents chaos ensues and so do the laughs. Also impressive are the large action scenes that make fine use of CGI animation breakthroughs.
BEST SUPPORTING BLOB:
It's easily the one-eyed lame-brained blue lug of a people hugger named B.O.B. perfectly matched to the talents of Rogen. He rolls away with the movie and inevitably the merchandise tie-ins.
The Painted Veil is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel about British colonialism in China. The film's cohesion is largely helped by a user-friendly script from Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) who tackles amorphous movie-unfriendly themes like emotional longing. We meet Walter Fane (Edward Norton) a lovesick middle-class bacteriologist who spots Kitty (Naomi Watts) an upper-class socialite approaching the upper limits of marrying age at a party. Walter not smooth with women woos Kitty with his intensity and persuades her to join him in cholera-stricken China. With a wandering eye Kitty is soon caught in a lusty affair with a local British diplomat Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) but Walter eventually forgives her but imprisons her in the desolate green south China countryside. The film's crucial problem is its setting of a Western-centric love story on top of a palette of Chinese human death and disease albeit framed beautifully and exotically. Norton and Watts take producers' credits as well. The actor pushed for years to get The Painted Veil made painstakingly and authentically co-produced with the China Film Board. These facts hint at the commitment and intelligence Oscar nominees Norton and Watts bring. Norton always impresses and surprises. Each role in his resume is tasty in its own way a wholly new creation and never derivative. In Norton's previous film The Illusionist he was a similarly powerful opaque character from a far away time and place. Although sometimes seeming she’s on autopilot Watts is also brilliantly underrated as the conflicted Kitty who doesn't love the man she married even though he loves her as much as she loves herself. Her tricky darting eyes mixed with uneasy body language tells us we don't know what to expect other than that she'll probably sabotage herself. Toby Jones--who played Truman Capote to critics' acclaim in Infamous--does a provocative turn as the mysterious opium-smoking neighbor. The Painted Veil falls short of greatness when the second half crumbles into laziness right when the emotional impact should be the strongest. Director John Curran is relatively untested ( We Don't Live Here Anymore) especially with difficult material and he stumbles a bit in this ambitious drama. Veil's storytelling meanders with a few unnecessary scenes. Lame mini-montages lapse into TV movie territory. Attention to detail however (minus Norton's highlighted hair) is superb. Four exquisite wisely picked Chinese locations were used in concert with local actors and crew to produce an internationally representative work of Chinese/American art. Interior sets are post-WWI prudish and upper-class underlying the movie's "painted " hidden ideas. Old-world rickshaws and water systems are true to the time. The haunting soundtrack feels postmodern and contemporary. But overall like last year's disappointing Memoirs of a Geisha the mish-mash of American and Asian story themes doesn't quite work.
Top Story: Stewart Indicted
It may be time to think about how to decorate that jail cell. Homemaking maven Martha Stewart was dealt a major blow Wednesday after she was charged with securities fraud and obstruction of justice stemming from the inside trading brouhaha over the sale of her shares of ImClone Systems, Inc. in 2001, Reuters reports. Charges were made after settlement talks between Stewart and federal prosecutors broke down. Stewart is also expected to step down as chairman and chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., Reuters reports.
Spike Suing Over Spike TV
Filmmaker Spike Lee is suing Viacom Inc. over its renaming the cable network TNN Spike TV, The Associated Press reports. The suit, which was filed Tuesday, claims it invokes the 25th Hour director's name, which he never gave consent to be used. "The media description of this change of name, as well as comments made to me and my wife, confirmed what was obvious--that Spike TV referred to Spike Lee," Lee said in court papers. Viacom bought TNN in 2000 and announced in April that it would change the channel's name to Spike TV on June 16, labeling it "the first network for men," in an attempt to further capture their already roughly two-thirds male audience. Viacom told AP on Tuesday that it was confident the court would reject Lee's claims to the popular name Spike.
Manilow Breaks Nose
Ouch! After waking disoriented in the middle of the night Tuesday, Barry Manilow accidentally ran into a wall, breaking his nose and knocking himself unconscious, Reuters reports. The 56-year-old entertainer had just returned home in Palm Springs, Calif. after spending two weeks in Malibu producing an album for Bette Midler. "I may have to have my nose fixed, and with this nose, it's going to require major surgery," Manilow quipped to Reuters, referring to his famously prominent proboscis.
Actor/Screenwriter Richard Cusack Dies
Richard Cusack--actor, screenwriter and patriarch of the famous acting family that includes stars John and Joan Cusack--died Monday of pancreatic cancer in Illinois, AP reports. He was 77. Cusack was best known for writing the 1999 HBO film The Jack Bull and appeared in films such as The Fugitive and Return to Me.
Clarkson Hits Gold--and Platinum
American Idol Kelly Clarkson is still feeling the love a year later. Her debut album Thankful has gone both gold and platinum after selling more than 1 million copies last month, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In figures released by the Recording Industry Association of America, the American Idol compilation album All-time Classic American Love Songs, which features the top 11 finalists from the second season of the Fox television hit, also soared high in sales with more than 500,000 copies sold.
Clay's Single Beating Ruben's in Sales
In more American Idol news, second season runner-up Clay Aiken's upcoming single "This is the Night"/ "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has steamed ahead of winner Ruben Studdard's single "Flying Without Wings"/ "Superstar" in advance sales on Amazon. com. Both singles are scheduled to be released June 10.
24 Producer Signs on for 24 Months More
Executive producer Howard Gordon, who heads up the hit Fox series 24, has inked a two-year deal with 20th Century Fox TV. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gordon will continue as a hands-on executive producer on 24, which has been picked up for a third season, as well as develop new projects for the studio.
Readers Eager for Harry
Amazon.com Inc. announced Wednesday their advance orders for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has reached 1 million. The highly anticipated fifth Potter book is to be released globally June 21.
Role Call: Jim Has Fun With Dick and Jane, More To Fly in Aviator
Hot off his new comedy Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey has signed with director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) and producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind) to remake the 1977 comedy Fun With Dick and Jane, Variety reports. The original film starred George Segal and Jane Fonda as a middle-class married couple who have to pull off heists to pay the bills…Meanwhile, stars are lining up alongside Leonardo DiCaprio for Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, a biopic about reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, and John C. Reilly are close to signing on to play Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Hughes' right-hand man Noah Dietrich, respectively, and No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani will make her screen debut as siren Jean Harlow.