Top Story: AFI Tags Samurai, Nemo Year's Best
The American Film Institute has announced its top 10 choices for this year's best in film and television. In film, the top 10 AFI Awards were, in alphabetical order: American Splendor, Finding Nemo, The Human Stain, In America, The Last Samurai, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Monster and Mystic River. In television, the top 10 were: Alias, Angels in America, Arrested Development, Everybody Loves Raymond, Joan of Arcadia, Nip/Tuck, Playmakers, Soldier's Girl, 24 and The Wire. A 13-person jury of scholars, artists, critics and AFI trustees discuss, debate and determine the AFI's most outstanding achievements of the year. "We don't rank them because what we want to celebrate is the creative collaboration in front and behind the camera that made these stories possible," Jean Picker Firstenberg, AFI director and chief executive officer, told Reuters.
Hussein's Capture Covers Networks
The news of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's capture completely dominated cable and broadcast networks Sunday morning. Reuters reports CNN edged the competition by going on the air first at 5:03 a.m. after grabbing the Reuters story. CNN's reporter, Alphonso Van Marsh, was also with the unit that captured the former Iraqi dictator. CBS, NBC, Fox News and MSNBC followed in quick succession. ABC put Good Morning America's Charles Gibson on in the morning but flew anchor Peter Jennings from a stint in Los Angeles to New York to do the story on the evening's World News Tonight. CBS and NBC also ran special reports in the evening on 60 Minutes and Dateline, respectively.
Jackson on Verge of Being Charged
Michael Jackson could be charged this week in the child molestation case currently pending against him, The Associated Press reports. Law enforcement officials have yet to disclose their evidence against the pop singer, who was arrested Nov. 20, but former Santa Barbara County sheriff Jim Thomas, who has discussed the case with Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon, expects the charges to allege that Jackson molested one child repeatedly, probably over a period of more than a month, AP reports. "You will see allegations of multiple counts of child molestation on this particular child," Thomas said, despite the recent report about a confidential memo, leaked last week from a Los Angeles County child welfare office, which said there was no basis for allegations that Jackson had molested the boy. In the memo, which was written last February, Jackson's accuser, his brother and his mother all denied the boy had been molested, AP reports.
Bowie Kicks Flu Bug and Kicks Off Tour
After postponing several dates due to illness, David Bowie finally took the stage Saturday in Montreal to kick off his A Reality tour, Reuters reports. "I didn't know if I could do the show tonight; I felt really ill, to be honest with you," Bowie, 55, revealed near the end of his 110-minute set at the Bell Canada Center. But, in his words, the show turned out to be "really memorable" as he performed hits from all facets of a diversified career spanning almost 40 years, Reuters reports. It's his first concert tour in eight years.
Snoop's in tha Dogg House
Actress Doris Burns, who appeared in Snoop Dogg's MTV show Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, has sued the rapper, claiming she was unwittingly made to appear as if she were naked and engaging in sexual relations with another actor, AP reports. In a lawsuit filed Friday, Burns accuses Snoop Dogg, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, and MTV of breach of contract, fraud, invasion of privacy and defamation. She is seeking unspecified damages, AP reports.
Actress Crain Dies
Actress Jeanne Crain, best known for her Academy Award-nominated performance in the controversial 1949 classic Pinky, in which she played a black girl passing for white, died Sunday of a heart attack in Santa Barbara. She was 78.
Free Willy Whale Dies
Keiko, the 6-ton killer whale who portrayed Willy in the hit film Free Willy, died Friday in western Norway's Taknes Bay of pneumonia at the age of 27. Taken into captivity when he was two years old, the whale was rescued from horrid conditions at an aquarium to star in the film. After preparing him for several years, Keiko was released back into the wild in 2002 off the coast of Iceland where he was born, but he ended up swimming to the Norwegian bay to live.
Role Call: Idol's Frenchie Lands Gig
Frenchie Davis, the spirited second season American Idol contestant who got booted for allegedly appearing on an adult Web site, has landed a starring role in a Los Angeles production of the musical Dreamgirls, AP reports. "There are a lot of people who were on American Idol," Davis told AP. "But not all of them are getting lead roles."…ABC is bringing Stephen King's novel Desperation to the small screen in a three-hour adaptation, Variety reports. The story centers on a man who winds up in a bizarre mining town in Nevada named Desperation after being pulled over by the strange local sheriff. King, currently recuperating from a bout of pneumonia, wrote the screenplay.
A decorated soldier Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) fought bravely during the Civil War but in the years thereafter pragmatism and self-interest embittered him. He now drinks heavily to drown his nightmares--particularly the ones about his role in decimating the proud Native Americans in the name of progress during the Indian Wars of the 1870s. As a mercenary for hire Algren heads to Japan to train the newly formed Imperial Army and usher it into the burgeoning age of modern Western culture--a shift that will put Japan's ancient customs and values in jeopardy including the tradition of the fierce and highly respected samurai warriors who once protected Japan with their fabled swords and still live by a strict code of honor. The scenario is eerily similar to Algren's experience with the Native Americans but at this point he doesn't care; he just wants to get the job done get paid and get out. But when the Samurai led by the powerful Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) capture him and take him to their remote mountain village the reluctant prisoner slowly learns about the loyalty courage fortitude and sacrifice these noble people believe in so completely. Watching them "spend every moment doing whatever they do to perfection " Algren is quickly won over and feels he has finally found his place in the world. He trains with the samurai becomes Katsumoto's friend and grows to love his newfound family. He's particularly fond of Katsumoto's beautiful sister Taka (Koyuki) with whom he develops a refreshingly chaste romance and her young son Magojiro (Aoi Minato). Yet the foreseeable battle between the old and the new looms over the proceedings and as the title indicates things do not end well for these proud warriors.
Cruise flourishes when he's on the edge--think Rain Man Magnolia Jerry Maguire--and here he does an excellent job as the disillusioned and haunted former Civil War captain who drinks too much. But as a born-again samurai warrior he doesn't quite fit the bill. Algren's transformation into a samurai is too pat and Cruise infuses the last quarter of the film with melodramatic mush before rushing onto the battlefield and kicking butt with a big-ass sword. It doesn't help that the role itself is farfetched; it's true that Japanese history would have to be rewritten if a real samurai survived but why should an American be the "last samurai" who reminds the Japanese emperor of the venerable swordsmen and Japan's roots? Thank heaven for the talented Japanese cast. Koyuki one of Japan's most popular actresses has a remarkably expressive face projecting strength and fragility at the same time. The young Minato as the defiant Magojiro is also a true find as a boy desperate to become a samurai. Watanabe however steals the show even from the film's more famous star as the formidable Katsumoto commanding the screen with quiet fierceness during their shared scenes.
Samurai overcomes its formulaic story to some degree in its execution. Japanese culture and history clearly fascinate director Edward Zwick (Glory Legends of the Fall) producer Marshall Herskovitz and writer John Logan who pay meticulous attention to the historical details of Japan's Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century--when the end of the rule by the old shogunate or feudal government led to the country's first encounter with the West after a self-imposed isolation of 200 years. Zwick's team created authentic sets and gorgeous costumes and took copious advantage of the beautiful surroundings especially the small town of Himeji. The attention to detail becomes a bit much however as the samurai prepare for their final climactic battle--several of these scenes could have been cut. But Zwick really shines as the battle finally begins: When the outnumbered samurai make their last stand charging a hillside of Imperial soldiers armed with rudimentary machine guns it's with the same doomed bravado the director captured in Glory when the black Civil War soldiers fought their last battle. The emotional impact continues when the battle ends and the entire Imperial army--made up mostly of Japanese peasants who have been turned into soldiers but cannot suppress many of their own beliefs--bow down on the battlefield to honor the fallen samurai. It's certainly a memorable moment.