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.
January 31, 2002 5:51am EST
A group of high school seniors put a boy who is eager to become part of their clique through a cruel initiation prank that involves jumping off some sort of high scaffolding into a cloudy pool at a local cement factory. When one of them Landon (Shane West) gets caught the principal decides Landon needs to hang with a different crowd and assigns him to tutor kids on the weekend and take part in the drama club's spring play. Surprise-the plan works! In over his head with the play Landon seeks help from Jamie (Mandy Moore) a dowdy bible-thumper who apparently only owns one ratty cardigan. Jamie however is not your run-of-the-mill unpopular girl. Rather than being introverted and weird she is smart witty and confident-in fact that grubby sweater of hers seems to be the only thing branding her as an outcast. The two grow closer and Landon eventually sees her inner beauty forgoing his own A-list status to be with her. But Landon learns that Jamie has been keeping a secret from him that inevitably blocks their path to happiness.
Moore the underdog of the teen pop stars dyes her hair brown and dulls herself down for the role of Jamie a simple girl that loves to gaze at the stars in her spare time. She did a great job transforming herself into her character but in the process extinguished most of what makes her sparkle on screen. Mind you the script might be to blame for creating a character so unbelievably mundane and one-dimensional. Under all of Jamie's goodness and perfection is well nothing. West does a great job portraying his character transformation. Even while Landon runs with the bad crowd West conveys a sense of humility in the character. Peter Coyote plays Reverend Sullivan Jamie's over-protective father without being too overbearing which is refreshing. An almost unrecognizable and weathered Daryl Hannah has a small but convincing enough role as Landon's mother. Maybe it was her now-brunette hair but I didn't realize it was Hannah until I saw the credits.
In A Walk to Remember director Adam Shankman steered away from being overly sentimental. The relationship that develops between the teens is actually very sweet and interestingly enough the film ends up being more about Landon's transformation than about Jamie's faith. While the film is not as flaky as the rash of recent teen movies it still manages to fall into the same clichés. Though the story is very-dare I say-poignant characters like Jamie's in trying to be different have become a stereotype: The plain Jane whose personality and convictions win over the popular guy. Remember Andie (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink? Or more recently Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) in She's All That? And though Moore has a beautiful melodic voice her singing scenes are too drawn out. We are not just treated to her crooning a chorus or two of a song during a church scene but the songs in their entirety. Even Mariah Carey spared us that much in Glitter.
Mel Gibson's got a new movie in town and its called The Captain and the Shark. No, it's not a film about a wacky sea captain and his pet shark. It's the very real account of the USS Indianapolis, the WWII cruiser that covertly transported the atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The ship was hit in 1945 by Japanese torpedoes and sank in the Pacific, but because the operation was so secretive, a rescue was delayed and many men died by shark attacks while waiting for one. We all remember the chilling account Robert Shaw's character Quint gave in Jaws about this very thing. Honestly, who thinks up these titles? Is there a collective hat somewhere? Gibson is in negotiations to star as Capt. Charles McVay, whom the Navy made a scapegoat for its mistakes, including ignoring distress signals. McVay was court-martialed and eventually committed suicide in 1968 but was recently exonerated by the Navy. Barry Levinson will direct the film for Warner Bros. So, you can see, this is serious stuff and has the makings of a great movie. But somehow, somewhere, a studio development exec will have to realize that this title has got to go.
Winona has a "Secret"
Lovely Winona Ryder will don a British accent once again in the British romantic comedy Lily and The Secret Planting, a follow-up feature for director Hettie Macdonald, who brought us Beautiful Thing in 1996. Ryder will play a young woman taking care of her mother who falls in love with an Australian working at the local plant nursery. There could be some interesting possibilities as far as leading men are concerned--there's Aussies Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger...maybe Russell Crowe. Yeah, right. Well, whoever stars opposite the actress, let's hope there's at least a little chemistry between them because Ryder hasn't shown much with her leading men lately. Autumn in New York with Richard Gere? Enough said. Production starts in London at the end of the month.
Soderbergh's "sex" lives on
Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh has decided to return to his roots. He will re-team with Miramax Films to bring us How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire, a sequel of sorts to his brilliant sex, lies and videotape. Yes, it's true. Soderbergh wants to revisit those dark, sexy and funny characters who fumble about, trying to figure out what to do with themselves--and I can't wait. There's not much yet on what the film is about or whether Graham (James Spader), Ann (Andie MacDowell), Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) or John (Peter Gallagher) will return. But Soderbergh said in a statement, "I'm extremely happy to be working with Miramax on How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire because Harvey Weinstein and I have been apart too long and the film was always envisioned as the unofficial sequel to sex, lies and videotape." sex, you'll remember, basically started the American independent movement in 1989, putting the Sundance Film Festival and Miramax Films on the map and winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes. No pressure or anything, Steven. Promise. Soderbergh is currently in post-production on his eagerly awaited remake of Ocean's 11 and will most likely start on this soon after.
Actor Paul Walker is indeed Fast and Furious. Hot off his hit racing film, the young hunk seems to be sought after. First, there's the mob drama Wanna-Be I mentioned last week and now--SWAT. Forgive me for rolling my eyes once again, but do any of the studio development execs have a clue? It's apparent that whatever amount of action they can shove on the screen, the better, and a film about the Special Weapons and Tactics team seems just about right. This project, based on the 1970s cop series, has been long in development. The premise centers on a grizzled vet SWAT officer who is given a second chance to assemble a new SWAT team to protect a high-profile criminal. OK, now I get why it's taken so long. The project was originally an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, but has turned into a youth-oriented action movie. Don't feel too bad, Arnold, you really don't need another bad action movie under your belt.
Beam us up--again and again
Star Trek live and breathes once again--now in its 10th installment. The film, as yet untitled, will be directed by Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshals, Executive Decision) and will re-team Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and Brent Spiner as Data, for now. No word on whether any of the other cast members will join them. Veteran Rick Berman will produce for Paramount Pictures once again but the film has yet to be greenlighted. Wow, this is one franchise that certainly has enough legs to never get boring. Considered one of the most successful series in entertainment history, the Star Trek movies have grossed more than $1 billion at the box office worldwide and more than $5 billion from ancillaries such as merchandising and home video. Make it so, No. 1.
Banderas and Liu--the new Terminators?
How does a movie about two Terminator-like undercover agents who look like Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu sound? OK, I like both of them...I'm going with it. The good-looking stars are in negotiations to star in Ecks vs. Sever (another title for the annals), a futuristic tale about two undercover agents, Ecks (Banderas) and Sever (Liu), who apparently have robotic attributes. They think they are enemies but in reality share the same common enemy. What's that? A rusting agent? This one definitely sounds promising, all kidding aside, as its being described as Bad Boys meets The Professional. And Banderas and Liu have been together before in the 1999 Playing It to the Bone-but most of you won't remember that fact. I certainly didn't. Ecks vs. Sever is being produced by Chris Lee (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) and marks the North American feature directorial debut of Thai filmmaker Kaos.
Ah, the blaxploitation craze rears its ugly head again. First there was John Singleton's Shaft, an updated version of the Richard Roundtree cult classic with Samuel L. Jackson and now, Dolemite, revamped for rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J and Dimension Films. In this modernized version, LL Cool J plays a hip entrepreneur who is sent to jail when drugs are found at his swinging nightclub. When released on parole, he finds out that his rival planted those drugs and has now taken over his club. Dolemite goes into revenge mode with the help of his three female friends, who manage to wipe the place up with their butt-kicking skills. Hmmm, a Charlie's Angels-esque quality. Maybe they could get the gals from Destiny's Child to do it. The original Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore, who is now doing standup, will advise and play a role.