Maid in Manhattan is yet another take on the Cinderella story. There are very few surprises but the film is still somewhat enjoyable despite its predictable setup. Cinderella aka Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a hardworking no-nonsense single mom who loves her son Ty (Tyler Posey) and dreams of breaking out of her job as a maid at a five-star hotel in Manhattan. Her Fairy Godmother aka co-worker Stephanie (Marissa Matrone) unwittingly gives her that chance when she convinces Marisa to try on some expensive clothes left in a suite by the Evil Stepsister aka spoiled socialite Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson) while they're cleaning. In walks Prince Charming aka Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) an incredibly handsome U.S. senator candidate and the city's most eligible bachelor and Boom! sparks fly. Chris thinks Marisa is the expensive suite's occupant--and she's too overwhelmed by the domino effect that happens to tell him different. Ah what a tangled web love at first sight can weave. Marisa spends the rest of the movie trying to cover up her error in judgment while also becoming increasingly drawn to her prince. Will he find out who she really is? Of course. Will it matter in the end? Of course not.
This may have been created as another vehicle to help further propel the career of actress/singer/designer/fiancee to Ben Affleck J. Lo but unexpectedly someone else comes out of the film looking better--Fiennes. It's little hard even for Jenny on the Block to outshine an Oscar-nominated actor. He elevates the formulaic subject matter and portrays a pretty down-to-earth Prince Charming without us ever seeing a forced move. I'm curious as to why such a high-caliber actor would choose such a run-of-the-mill project like this but whatever the reason he makes it work--at least for his part. Lopez doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. In fact it looks like she may have simply cloned the same expressions she put on in her other successful romantic comedy The Wedding Planner. And unfortunately Lopez and Fiennes don't share the same kind of heat she shared in that film with Matthew McConaughey or even George Clooney in Out of Sight (still her best performance to date). Yet they manage to convey a fair amount of good feelings to make the movie palatable. Richardson has a blast playing the rich bitch Caroline while Matrone making her film debut just comes off as annoying and pushy even if she thinks she's doing the right thing. Thank goodness she is because if things had turned out badly it would be in Marisa's best interest to go out and shoot her. Stanley Tucci as Christopher's watchdog campaign manager and Bob Hoskins as a senior-level butler at the hotel both do the best they can with silly parts.
Maid in Manhattan relies so heavily on the been-there-done-that Cinderella formula it becomes one of those romantic comedies you'll end up waiting to watch on cable one Saturday night rather than paying to see in a movie theater. It's really a shame because director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) had some interesting elements to play with and lots of acting talent to back it up. Perhaps Lopez could have played Marisa more wacky than so serious maybe try to show some comic ability. It would be a nice change of pace to think out of the box for once--what if the lovestruck pair didn't get together in the end? (I know the film would have fallen flat on its face.) But instead Maid wallows in predictability and implausibility. Christopher falls a little too hard and a little too fast for reality. Also it's hard to believe a maid would have access to all the hotel's amenities as Marisa does--borrowing a Harry Winston diamond necklace from the hotel jewelry store for the gala event? Unlikely to say the least. The only aspect of the film that stands out is the sneak peek you get into the inner workings of a top-notch hotel. It's definitely a world you don't get to see very often.
The film opens as teenagers Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella) are having a sleepover and spooking each other with ghost stories. Trouble is the urban legend Becca retells is all too true as Katie is just about to find out in the most grisly of ways. The story centers on a mysterious videotape that should you be so unfortunate as to view it will kill you in seven days (you know this because someone calls right after you watch it to alert you that you're gonna kick). Katie and her friends watched it and sure enough they're all dead a week later--sparking Katie's aunt an investigative journalist named Rachel (Naomi Watts) to uncover what happened and why. When the trail leads her to the sinister tape she watches it receives the foreboding phone call and consequently sets off on a race against time to somehow save her life by finding out the meaning of what she's seen. She enlists the help of Noah (Martin Henderson) the father of her rather strange and solitary young son Aidan (David Dorfman)--who like all kids in horror movies these days is seeing frightening visions too--and over the course of seven days the two find themselves embroiled in a mystery that involves the tape a twisted family and dying horses.
The acting by all involved is generally good. Naomi Watts who hit the radar with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive last year ably carries the film although there are times in close-up when she looks too self-aware with an almost smug expression as though she's about to smile when the situation isn't the least bit funny. Maybe it's because she knows her Rachel does some pretty mind-blowingly foolish things the most noteworthy among them leaving the deadly video out where her curious son (who annoyingly invokes Haley Joel Osment and looks absolutely nothing like either of the folks playing his parents) can pop it in the ol' VCR. Though Watts is a basically likeable fresh face any number of up-and-coming actresses could have done this role--as well or better.
It's been awhile since jaded horror fans have had something to get excited about. Gore Verbinski justifies his career after the miserable The Mexican with this taut thriller which opens with the teen girls in a truly terrifying sequence reminiscent of Scream. Verbinski is keenly aware of the value of keeping things just out of sight and not resorting to cheap horror movie shlock so there are genuine chills to be had (animal lovers will want to cover their eyes during one particularly horrifying scene). Although the moments that'll really make you jump out of your skin are few and far between the secret behind the videotape is compelling as is the imagery. Without overdoing it The Ring displays some fantastic cinematography particularly with the Buñuel-esque videotape (you could have heard a pin drop as engrossed as the audience was at this review screening) and the shots of gloomy mist-enshrouded Washington State are disquietingly atmospheric. However the last third of the movie is somewhat disappointing and contains several utterly ridiculous scenes--particularly one at the ending (which actually has a nice twist).
Longfellow Deeds (played by Adam Sandler) is the owner of a popular pizzeria in the small town of Mandrake Falls N.H. He is a seemingly happy and well-adjusted guy whose main pastime involves writing greeting cards he hopes will one day be published by a big conglomerate like Hallmark. His enchanting life all but comes to a halt however when a corporate honcho named Anderson (Peter Gallagher) informs Deeds that his long lost relative Preston Blake has left him an inheritance of $40 billion a chain of media outlets a football team and a basketball team. Deeds heads to Manhattan to collect his endowment which includes a Diff'rent Strokes-style Park Avenue penthouse and befriends his late uncle's butler Emilio (John Turturro). When Deeds falls for tabloid TV producer Babe Bennett (played by Winona Ryder) who is posing as a demure school nurse he inevitably gets his heart broken and realizes that a 200-mile-an-hour lifestyle isn't for him. Mr. Deeds is a middle-of-the-road movie with a couple of good laughs most of which don't come from Sandler.
Sandler's portrayal of Deeds is peculiar. You would expect this small-town guy to have the same qualities that Gary Cooper had in the 1936 version but Sandler's depiction is dimwitted rather than polite and his character has a disturbing violent streak. His seems to channel his inadequacies into landing his fist in people's faces. But Sandler's character is not only mean tempered he's humorless too. Ryder (Autumn in New York) cunning Babe Bennett on the other hand did have a timeless quality and it is nice to see her acting goofy for a change. The script didn't call on her to say too much unfortunately and her character ends up being a caricature of a 1930s career woman. Surprisingly Turturro's (Collateral Damage) character the loyal butler with a strange habit of appearing and disappearing from a room generates the most laughs. Watch for cameo appearances by Sandler's buddy Rob Schneider and another by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Director Steven Brill who also directed Sandler in Little Nicky delivers a relatively flat and uninspiring New York City: in the scene where Babe and her coworker fake a mugging for example the street appears deserted rather than bustling. To make matters worse the bland visuals are littered with clichéd fish-out-of-water situations including Deeds' fascination with the huge apartment's acoustics and its vast housekeeping staff. The most disturbing aspect of the film is that after deciding that happiness is more important than money Deeds doesn't do anything worthwhile with the dough. OK he does give it all the United Negro College Fund but a gigantic plot hole seems to indicate that the organization will have to send it back. The point is Deeds never tries to do the right thing with the money; he just wants to wash his hands of it.
October 19, 2001 5:57am EST
The film opens with prison warden Colonel Winter (Robert Redford) greeting the highly respected General Irwin (James Gandolfini) at the start of his 10-year sentence for disobeying a presidential order. When they meet Irwin makes a snide remark about Winter--a non combatant--proudly showcasing military trinkets and memorabilia in his office. The comment instantly touches off a power war between the two which ends with Irwin threatening to take over the prison and flying the American flag upside down--a symbol that the castle has fallen. Winter rises to the challenge and the two begin their strategic plotting. Irwin wins the respect of his fellow inmates in an overly drawn scene where he is forced to carry large stones from one pile to another in the prison courtyard and forms an army of inmates using clichéd chess tactics to demonstrate his assault plans. Winter meanwhile watches from his cozy office overlooking the courtyard as if he was watching a reality series on a big-screen TV.
The highly regarded General Irwin is a simple solemn type which unfortunately is what is fundamentally wrong with the film. While Redford does the brooding thing quite well the script never calls for him to do anything more than that. James Gandolfini takes on the role of prison warden Colonel Winter with fitting simplicity. He accentuates Winter's dumb-thug persona by over-enunciating his words and speaking in an unnaturally slow manner. Redford and Gandolfini both churn out great performances but it would have been more rewarding had the script called for their characters to be more well-rounded. Steve Burton plays Winter's right hand man Captain Peretz convincingly considering what few lines he has. His body language facial expressions and dialogue manage to convey his character's thoughts even when his lines don't.
Directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender) The Last Castle is a well-paced story without a dull moment. It concludes with a dramatic and exciting climax but the problem is it's just too simple. While it's easy to get caught up in the story it's hard to buy how easily the inmates are able to take control of such a heavily guarded maximum-security prison. Using cafeteria trays as shields is one thing but hurling stones using a giant catapult that somehow went unnoticed by prison security is hard to swallow. So is the fact that these inmates a group of hardened criminals cooperate so easily with hardly any friction. While it could have been a very emotional story it fails because the characters are one-dimensional and never really explored including the two main characters played by Redford and Gandolfini. One is a great strategist and the other draconian but viewers are left to guess why and how they got that way.
"The Sopranos' " stranglehold on awards shows no sign of weakening.
HBO's runaway mob series -- a hit at last month's Golden Globes -- has staked out four nominations for best direction in a TV series from the Directors Guild of America, making it the first drama series ever to walk away with four mentions in a single category for the same year. The DGA's TV categories were announced Monday.
The four "Sopranos" helmers tapped for the best director award are: Daniel Attias, for the episode titled "46 Long"; Henry J. Bronchtein, for "Nobody Know Anything"; David Chase, for the pilot episode; and Allen Coulter, for "College." The "Sopranos" foursome is up against Thomas Schlamme for his work on the pilot episode of NBC's "The West Wing."
The nominees for best director in a TV comedy series are: James Burrows, for an episode titled "Yours, Mine, Ours" of NBC's "Will & Grace"; Thomas Schlamme, for the episode "Small Town" from ABC's "Sports Night"; Pamela Fryman, for the "Frasier" episode "The Flight Before Christmas"; Katy Garretson, for the "Frasier" episode "Dr. Nora"; and Victoria Hochberg, for "The Man, The Myth, The Viagra" from HBO's racy "Sex and the City."
In the category of best director of a musical variety show, the DGA nominated Gerard Foley for CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman"; Dennie A. Gordon, for HBO's "Tracey Takes On ... End of the World"; Louis J. Horvitz, for the "71st Annual Academy Awards" on ABC; Rob Marshall for ABC's "Annie"; and Beth McCarthy Miller, for NBC's "Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary."
The Directors Guild of America Awards will be announced March 11.
'MALCOLM' ON THE RISE: The fledgling Fox smash sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle" is set to continue its comic form, as the network has ordered up 16 new episodes.
The light comedy has been a surprise hit since its debut last month and has been holding its turf as the top-ranked show during its 8:30-9 p.m. Sunday time slot. Its renewal comes as an expected move given the overall unspectacular lineup plaguing Fox of late.
Three of the 16 new "Malcolm" episodes will run as extra installments during the May sweeps; the remaining 13 are slated for the show's 2000-2001 fall season.
MALLRATS OF THE WORLD UNITE: Looks like MTV has stumbled upon a cost-efficient, foolproof formula for grabbing the undivided attention of 18- to 24-year-olds: Put real-life folks in probable confrontational situations, tape them, and then broadcast the video for the consumption of viewers worldwide.
Such is the concept of MTV's latest exploit -- "Mall Confession," another quasi-"drama" series being developed for the teen-music empire. In the cinema-verité tradition of "The Real World" and "Road Rules," the new "Mall Confession" is said to involve a traveling confessional booth that will solicit personal testimonies and intimate secrets from teens in malls across America.
No word yet if MTV's upright Carson Daly will be on hand to offer absolution.
THE HUMANITY OF IT ALL: And now a moment of silence for "Shasta."
The low-rated hip-hop sitcom, formerly titled "Shasta McNasty," will depart UPN's prime-time lineup next month. Starting March 21, the network will place the new cop drama, "The Beat," in the 9-10 p.m. Tuesday time slot. The move also will bump UPN's "Dilbert" toon from the schedule. Both departing shows will see their last air dates on March 14.
Produced by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana ("Homicide"), "The Beat" follows Derek Cecil and Mark Ruffal as two young policemen fighting crime and personal evils in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
WHERE'S ROSIE: Rosie O'Donnell, seemingly the hardest-working woman on TV, will have a guest spot on NBC's "Third Watch" on Feb. 21.