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 IT’S ABOUT?
When a strong-willed business woman is suddenly told she might lose her job and be deported to her native Canada she impulsively forces her ever-loyal executive assistant into a shotgun engagement in order to get a green card and stay in the country. The plan gets complicated when the mismatched twosome must go to meet his family in Alaska and convince everyone including a pesky government investigator that their impending marriage is the real thing.
WHO’S IN IT?
Sandra Bullock has never been more appealing in the kind of “tough boss” role normally associated with male actors. The Proposal turns the usual romantic comedy tables around giving Bullock lots to play with — and she certainly makes the most of it painting a hilarious picture of an attractive and surprisingly vulnerable business exec caught in a situation spiraling out of control. Ryan Reynolds’ sitcom expertise is put to good use in the role of her willingly unwilling assistant who must join her charade or risk losing his job. This is Reynolds’ best outing as a rom-com lead yet and he shows he could own the genre if provided the right material. Stealing the movie from both of them however is the irrepressible Betty White who plays Reynolds’ saucy Grammy. Once again the Golden Girls alum proves she has comic timing second to none.
Knowing the standard romantic comedy setup just isn’t going to cut it anymore director Anne Fletcher (Step Up 27 Dresses) turns The Proposal into more of a screwball farce letting the laughs fly without forcing them on us. She’s helped by two game lead players who really know their way around this well-worn genre and provide just the right balance to keep this merry soufflé from falling apart. The breathtaking remote locations (Massachusetts oddly enough substitutes for Alaska) don’t hurt.
No matter how inventive the script it’s pretty obvious where things are going to wind up in any romantic comedy. But The Proposal despite following the standard blueprint still manages to keep us guessing until the very end and that accounts for most of the fun.
A scene in which Bullock and Reynolds accidentally run into each other sans clothing is hilarious worthy of the best farceurs. A close second is a sequence involving a little dog a menacing eagle and a cell phone. Classic stuff.
BEST REASON TO PLOP DOWN 10 BUCKS?
After 60 — count ‘em 60 — years in show business with six Emmys and numerous TV series to show for it Betty White at age 87 still proves there can be second third and even fourth acts in life. She gives a movie star turn here that shows everyone how it’s done.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
As an alternative to big summer action flicks and gross-out comedies The Proposal is definitely the date movie du jour.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend quite frankly has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs however knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse Looney Tunes would fail without him and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond save D.J.'s dad and of course save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters but these aren't your ordinary cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs Daffy Porky Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing able to spar with the best of them throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone) he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman on the other hand sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and unlike Rupert who came in small hilarious doses Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route and Bugs Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot Back in Action guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers The 'Burbs) tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans but if the story's good they will watch. Granted some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry the gang from Looney Tunes could but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.
He shoots, he doesn't "Score!" Oscar winner Russell Crowe is allegedly an aficionado of Scores strip club in Manhattan, reportedly dropping five grand on three strippers at Christmas-time, PageSix.com reports. The report also reveals that the hunky actor failed to convince the strippers to remove their G-strings or accompany him back to his hotel room.
Nicole Kidman's bank account isn't the only thing that's growing bigger these days. For the upcoming flick The Hours the star of Moulin Rouge had to endure two hours in the make-up chair (which Sky News says she "hated") to add some needed mass to her proboscis to approximate that of author Virginia Woolf. Ah, the sacrifices Nicole's willing to make for her art--first kissing Ewan McGregor and now this.
Disturbed director David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) has been tapped to head the panel of judges at the next Cannes Film Festival. And here we thought the only American entertainer the French liked was Jerry Lewis.
Third time's the charm? Former Seinfeld cast member Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) is trying her hand at a prime time sitcom, following in the failed footsteps of Michael Richards (Kramer) and Jason Alexander (George), whose projects both failed to last a full season. Watching Ellie debuts Feb. 26 on NBC, and will likely be cancelled by mid-April.
Comedian Chris Rock and wife Malaak Compton-Rock are expecting their first child, People magazine reports. The couple has been married for five years.
The Laramie Project officially opened the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night. The Laramie Project deals with the murder of a gay man in Laramie, Wyo., whose only crime was being openly gay. Shocked viewers were heard to say, "That doesn't look like a bobsled." The Winter Olympics start in Park City, Utah about a month after Sundance ends.
Another day, another awards announcement. The Producers Guild of America has released their nominations for the best of TV and film. Shrek becomes the first animated film to be considered for the PGA's Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures. Shrek is also the first ogre and the first fully green creature to be considered for such an honor.
On Wednesday, Michael Jackson came in first and third in the television ratings for 18-49 year olds. Jacko's appearance on the American Music Awards propelled ABC to a victory in the most coveted demographic, while his repeated special on CBS finished third. No word on whether Jacko pulled in the highly coveted llama demographic.
Showtime and MTV have confirmed that they are working on a cable network targeted at gays and lesbians. This news crushes Jerry Falwell's plans to do the same.
Leaving No Doubt about her future matrimonial plans, a spokesman for Gwen Stefani said the 32-year-old Ska-rocker is getting hitched to Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, 34, Reuters reports. Rossdale admitted that Stefani was pressuring him to make a commitment last November.
Ray Charles has Australia on his mind? The 71-year-old legendary musician is headed down under in February for a series of concerts in Oz, Reuters announces.
In an ironic twist that only the U.S. court system could come up with, Rapper DMX has worked out an astounding plea agreement with Bergen County, N.J., prosecutors. DMX, who was charged with 13 counts of animal cruelty, two counts of maintaining a nuisance and one count each of disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia in 2001--and charged with possession of a deadly weapon and child endangerment in 1999--will make public service announcements for kids telling them of the dangers of guns and asking them to be kinder to animals. Otherwise, they might become successful recording artists who cross over to making movies...
Martin Luther King's life (and 73rd birthday) will be celebrated in a Smithsonian exhibit starting on King's birthday this Sunday at Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, The Associated Press reports. The traveling exhibit, which features works of more than 100 artists who carry on King's work through their art, will visit six cities over the next two years.
Doubling their displeasure, twin teen stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have dropped out of So Little Time, their highly successful sitcom on ABC Family Channel. ABC cites the twins' demands for a $400,000 raise in their allowance as the sticking point. Mary-Kate and Ashley are currently looking to get onboard a movie ride, but can only do so if they're this tall.
The Highlands Grand opened with a gala fest Wednesday night. Attendees--including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jerri Manthey (Survivor) and former NBA hoopster John Salley--were treated to designer grub by Wolfgang Puck, choreographed dance numbers by Alex Magno (Madonna's Drowned World Tour) and places to sit.
Moviegoers will "Cast" most of their box office votes for Tom Hanks this weekend.
"Cast Away," 20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated drama reteaming Hanks and "Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis, opens at nearly 2,800 theaters.
"Sunday is going to be off because its Christmas Eve, but with Christmas on a Monday this year it's going to be a four-day weekend," an insider explains. "Based on what 'What Women Want' did last week (opening to $33.6 million), 'Cast Away' could open to $30 million-plus for four days. They'll be number one."
"A lot of business is going to happen over the four days," predicts another studio source. "I assume 'Cast Away' is going to be number one. I think it's going to do around $35 million."
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.
Second place could see competition between Paramount's PG-13-rated romantic comedy from Icon Productions "What Women Want" and Universal's opening at about 2,400 theaters of its PG-13 romantic fantasy from Beacon Communications "The Family Man," with each looking at mid-week like they could do $20-25 million.
Insiders expressed varying views of which film will be the strongest. With about half of its marketing campaign running this week, "Family Man" should see some major benefit in terms of boosting moviegoer awareness just as it opens.
"'Women' should do $25-28 million," predicts a more enthusiastic distributor, claiming the close race will be for third place and will be between "Family Man" and "The Grinch."
"'Family Man' could be number two," counters another observer, "and 'Grinch' could be sitting there (in fourth place) with $15 million for four days."
Directed by Nancy Meyers, "Want" stars Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.
Directed by Brett Ratner, "The Family Man" stars Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni and Don Cheadle.
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-rated blockbuster "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" will have overtaken "Mission: Impossible 2" by Christmas Day to become the year's biggest-grossing film with over $215.4 million. "Grinch" is well on its way to a domestic theatrical gross of $250 million-plus.
Directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer, "Grinch" stars Jim Carrey.
Dimension Films' R-rated horror genre film "Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000," opening at 1,500-plus theatres, should round out the Top Five.
"I think 'Dracula's' going to outgross 'Miss Congeniality,'" one distributor speculates after studying the Hollywood radar screen. "I think 'Dude, Where's My Car' will go south. That young audience will switch over to 'Dracula.' Let's say $10-12 million there."
"I don't think 'Dracula' is going to open to more than 'Dude' did (with $13.8 million)," agrees another source. "Let's say it does $12-14 million."
Directed by Patrick Lussier, "Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000" stars Jonny Lee Miller and Justine Waddell.
Warner Bros.' launch of Castle Rock Entertainment's PG-13-rated comedy "Miss Congeniality" should arrive in sixth place. Opening at about 2,700 theaters, "Congeniality" could walk off with about $10 million.
"Wait till the word gets out on that film," snaps a pessimistic insider, agreeing that a marketing-driven $10 million opening is probably in the cards.
Directed by Donald Petrie, "Miss Congeniality" stars Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt and Candice Bergen.
Filling out lower rungs: "The Emperor's New Groove," "Vertical Limit," "Dude, Where's My Car" and "Proof Of Life."
On the limited release front: Buena Vista/Touchstone opens its PG-13-rated dark comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for Oscar consideration.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Ethan and Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and John Turturro.
Lions Gate Films opens its unrated suspense thriller "Nowhere To Hide" in New York and L.A.
Directed by Lee Myeong-Se, it stars Park Jung-Hun.
Fine Line opens its R-rated comedy "State and Main" in the top 12 markets.
Directed and written by David Mamet, it stars Alec Baldwin.
Sony Pictures Classics opens its PG-rated drama "The House Of Mirth" in New York and L.A.
Directed and written by Terence Davies, it stars Gillian Anderson, Eric Stoltz and Dan Aykroyd.
Fine Line opens its R-rated drama "Before Night Falls" in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.
Directed by Julian Schnabel, it stars Javier Bardem.
On the expansion front: Miramax goes into the top 50 markets with its romantic comedy drama "Chocolat," a likely contender for Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Also, "Finding Forrester" opens Dec. 19 in New York and L.A. and "The Gift" opens in L.A. Dec. 20. Opening Christmas Day: "All the Pretty Horses" (wide), "An Everlasting Piece" (limited), and "13 Days" (limited).
CHRISTMAS BOX OFFICE Unlike Thanksgiving, which, of course, always falls on a Thursday and always generates a five-day box office period (from Wednesday through Sunday), Christmas falls on a different day of the week every year. As a result, comparisons of Christmas box office business are difficult to make. Some years Christmas is part of a four-day holiday weekend, while in other years the holiday is part of a three-day weekend, and in other years the holiday falls mid-week and is not connected to the weekend that follows it.
Having Christmas fall on a Monday, explains one distribution executive, "is not ideal, but it's certainly better than Christmas on a Sunday, which kills your Saturday night business. There should be a strong Friday and Saturday. People are obviously off for the weekend. Christmas Eve will slump, but then Christmas Day will be good. Then the mid-week business will be strong."
Focusing on the same question, another distributor says Christmas falling on a Monday "is good because Christmas eve on a Sunday is a day off for everybody and they can go to movies during the day, not at night, and still participate in Christmas Eve activities."
If we could work things out to have Christmas always fall on the same day of the week, which day would Hollywood pick? "I'd probably pick a Tuesday or Thursday," replies one insider, "because then there's a tendency for people to just take the extra day off. When it's on Thursday, then it becomes like Thanksgiving. So you're off on Thursday for Christmas Day -- well, who's going to go back to the office for one day? Now, all of a sudden, you've got a four-day weekend, and your Christmas Eve was only a week night (that got hurt), so who cares?
"I don't like Christmas Eve to ever be one of the weekend nights. But I like Christmas to be close enough to the weekend. Thursday is really ideal because even it's on Tuesday, then people take off Monday, but they're taking off a day when they're not going to go to the movies at night."
Wednesday is seen as a bad day for Christmas, this source adds, because "it's sort of neither here nor there. It's smack right in the middle of the week and it's harder for people to say, 'Oh, I'll take an extra two days off.' The worst day is Sunday because it kills Saturday night. That was last year. It's one of those things like the weather. You can speculate, but you can't do a darn thing about it."
In 1999, Christmas fell on a Saturday. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more for the weekend -- did $95.0 million for the weekend of Dec. 24-26. Warner Bros.' opening of "Any Given Sunday" led the pack with $13.58 million and a five-day cume of $20.6 million. Paramount's opening of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" was second with $12.74 million for two days.
In 1998, Christmas fell on a Frida . Key films took in $142.4 million for the weekend of Dec. 25-27. Universal's opening of "Patch Adams" was first with $25.26 million. Sony's launch of "Stepmom" was second with $19.14 million.
In 1997, Christmas fell on a Thursday. Key films grossed $140.1 million for the weekend of Dec. 26-28. Paramount's "Titanic" topped the chart with $35.46 million and had a 10-day cume (from its opening until the end of the Christmas weekend) of $88.4 million. MGM's James Bond epic "Tomorrow Never Dies" was second with $20.48 million and a 10-day cume of $62.2 million. Sony's opening of "As Good As It Gets" finished third with $12.61 million and a four-day cume of $16.2 million.
In 1996, Christmas fell on a Wednesday. Key films did $109.4 million for the post-Christmas weekend of Dec. 27-29. New Line's opening of "Michael" was first with $17.44 million and a five-day cume of $27.6 million. Sony's "Jerry Maguire" was second with $14.02 million and a 17-day cume of $60.4 million.
In 1995, Christmas fell on a Monday. Key films collected $90.6 million for the four-day weekend of Dec. 22-25. 20th Century Fox's opening of "Waiting To Exhale" was first with $14.13 million for four days. Buena Vista/Disney's "Toy Story" was second with $12.11 million and a 34-day cume of $115.7 million.
In 1994, Christmas fell on a Sunday. Key films did $86.28 million for the four day weekend of Dec. 23-26. New Line's "Dumb and Dumber" was first with $15.59 million and an 11-day cume of $40.7 million. Buena Vista/Disney's "The Santa Clause" was second with $9.78 million and a 46-day cume of $123.2 million.