A Native American legend tells a story about humans named Skinwalkers who get supernatural powers once they feast on blood. The legend also says a 13 year-old boy will come someday when the moon is blood red and break the curse. Enter Timothy (Matthew Knight) a 13 year-old who lives in the town of Hugenot. His mother (Rhona Mitra) is concerned about her son's persistent nightmares and tells Uncle Jonas (Elias Koteas) she wants to leave town. Maybe it’s because a pack of Skinwalkers led by Varek (Jason Behr) have invaded the town. But Mom is in for a shock. It turns out Uncle Jonas his daughter (Sarah Carter) her fiancé (Shawn Roberts) the mailman (Lyriq Bent) and even Nana (Barbara Gordon) all turn into werewolves once a month and Timothy is the half-breed who may save them. Behr (Roswell) is practically unrecognizable but does a nice job as the long-haired well-built Skinwalker who sets out to kill the boy but soon discovers a secret that changes his mind. His sidekicks are both scary (Kim Coates) and sexy (Natassia Malthe) and they do well playing evil. Familiar character actor Koteas becomes the emotional soul of the film even when he transforms into a werewolf. But it's young Knight (The Grudge 2) who has the biggest challenge showing he can be scared fearless and smart—all at the same time. Not easy to do but the kid handles the chores with aplomb. Skinwalkers is really a rather tame werewolf film not unlike the Lon Chaney versions back in the 1940s. It's hard to make a compelling werewolf movie these days because they focus just on the gore. The classic exception is John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London which combined blood and guts with comedy but Skinwalkers actually comes close. It has action a good story and decent special effects without relying on the usual violence. Skinwalkers’ director James Isaac was responsible for one of the more creative Friday the 13ths Jason X and has a special effects background which is evident in Skinwalkers’ wolf transformations. The battles are nearly Matrix-esque and the scenes of the red moon and the morning sunrises are quite spectacular. The film may have suffered some bad buzz earlier on but it's far better than most of the other werewolf offerings.
While driving on a moonlit canyon road Los Angelenos Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her teenage brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) are attacked by some kind of giant wolf. They escape with their lives but are somehow altered by the accident. Boy are they ever. The career-driven Ellie and scrawny Jimmy suddenly find themselves with super strength and dexterity an undeniable sexual allure to those around them and heighten senses. They can smell human blood--everywhere. Uh oh. Think it's time to get out the sterling silver and melt them down into bullets. Of course Ellie and Jimmy can't deny the changes happening to them and soon find out that their werewolf encounter wasn't necessarily all that random. Still they aren't too keen on feeling the effects as their bodies painfully morph into flesh-ripping werewolves. They decide they have to solve the mystery and break the curse before it completely consumes them. Oh c'mon what's a little curse among friends?
Just like the Scream series Cursed is at least bolstered by a young hip cast even if most of them are wasted. Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) has the most fun as the geeky teenager who sort of likes his newfound powers. With his hair all mussed up and sexy Jimmy goes from a nobody in high school and to a hot-ticket item. Apparently if you didn't know this the whole burgeoning werewolf-sexual-attraction thing revolves around changing your hairstyle. While Ellie lets hers down Ricci is unfortunately a bit stiff as the supposedly tempting soon-to-be she-wolf. It's as if the actress knows how weak the script is. Joshua Jackson (so charismatic as Pacey from TV's Dawson's Creek) too seems to be going through the motions as Ellie's mysterious new boyfriend with a deep secret (clue: his hair is perfect). Judy Greer (13 Going on 30) however nearly steals the show chewing up the scenery--literally and figuratively--as a snide public relations agent with a mean jealous streak.
Movies about werewolves on a whole are pretty damn cool. It's all about how the person gets "infected" and slowly transforms from human to werewolf. Of course there's the original classic The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and then the contemporary ones including An American Werewolf in London and The Howling (we don't count the tepid Wolf). Even Underworld's look at the ongoing feud between werewolves and vampires is at the very least an original idea. So one would think an updated werewolf story would be right up the alley of horror master Wes Craven and his Scream partner Kevin Williamson. It's not. Cursed's main problem is the jejune and derivative script. Wannabe hipster Williamson who also created the terminally chic Dawson's Creek tries to infuse the film with his usual twisty aren't-I-great-at-writing-cool-teen-speak? style. But this time around it only falls flat. Craven makes up for it a little with well-placed scare tactics and slick special effects but Cursed can't quite measure up to its werewolf predecessors.
Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) thought she had the perfect life with lawyer husband Charles (Steve Harris): a big house lots of creature comforts and a stable--albeit staid--marriage. But Helen's world shatters when Charles tells her on the eve of their 18th wedding anniversary that he wants a divorce and literally kicks her out of their spacious mansion to make room for another woman. Devastated she runs to her beloved pot-smokin' gun-totin' grandmother Madea (Tyler Perry) who lets Helen know she's a proud beautiful black woman who nonetheless should whoop the bastard's ass. As hurt as she is Helen really just wants to pick up the pieces and move on if she can. She finds guidance and empowerment from her family and friends including new friend Orlando (Shemar Moore) a drop-dead gorgeous construction worker whose sweet and sincere ways more than help Helen get through her pain. And he cooks too. Really there's no contest.
The main cast members aptly portray their roles formulaic as they are. Kimberly Elise (The Manchurian Candidate) as the grievously wronged wife has the toughest job trying to convey all the crazy mixed-up feelings Helen has for the ex-husband while trying to jumpstart her life. Steve Harris (TV's The Practice) as the callous husband and Shemar Moore (TV's The Young and the Restless) as the too-good-to-be-true suitor represent the two opposites sides of the coin. Even Cicely Tyson makes an appearance as Helen's invalid mother who seems just a little too healthy to be in a nursing home. But it's Tyler Perry who turns out to be the true mad black woman. The film comes alive when he's onscreen either playing the outrageous Madea--complete with wig makeup and padding--or Madea's brother Joe a lecherous old coot. Perry even gets to play it straight as Helen's kindly cousin Brian who has a junkie for a wife (played by Tamara Taylor with the usual vacant twitchy neediness). It would have been a long hour and a half without him.
Perry obviously writes from the heart having struggled through his younger years to become a well-known playwright. And with music video director Darren R. Grant at the helm Diary of a Mad Black Woman has all the best intentions. It's certainly a buoyant portrait of African-American life and culture that also speaks to anyone who has had to grapple with betrayal and hurt at the hands of those they love. But the stage-trained Perry somehow misses the subtleties of writing for film. Diary doesn't know what kind of genre it wants to be jumping from raucous comedy á la Big Momma's House to mind-numbing drama á la Waiting to Exhale. The characters don't have any complexities and are drawn very black or white. It also takes an awfully long time for our heroine to figure out what direction she's going to take when we could tell her in the first 30 minutes as to whom she should end up with. In the meantime we must endure several melodramatic set pieces filled with elaborate speeches about revenge love relationships redemption religion and all that which are meant to hit us hard with their poignancy. Perry might consider keeping the highfalutin writing for the stage and think about an acting career in film.
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
A promising young playwright Sidda Lee Walker (Sandra Bullock) lives in New York far enough away from her Louisiana hometown. After she gives a damaging interview to Time magazine--damaging mainly to her mother Vivianne Abbott Walker (Ellen Burstyn) who doesn't take lightly to her daughter's intonations that she was not a good mother--the two women begin a feud. It threatens to destroy not only their relationship but Sidda's own plans to marry her longtime boyfriend Connor (Angus MacFadyen). Enter the Ya-Ya Sisterhood--Caro (Maggie Smith) Teensy (Fionnula Flanagan) and Necie (Shirley Knight) Vivi's lifelong best friends. To bring mother and daughter back together the women decide it's time for Sidda to learn about the Divine Secrets of their little clique--and about her mother's painful past. They tell Sidda stories about the young Vivi (Ashley Judd) who was full of promise and hope but how certain tragic events damaged her. The bond between these four older women is unshakable and the most honest element to the film. The sad news for the novel's fans however is that while the script manages to convey the true spirit of friendship it can't quite capture the magic of the book.
In a cast of many the film is chock-full of wonderful performances but it's the matured Ya-Yas who steal the show. Smith plays the tough Caro a lifelong smoker now saddled with emphysema with all the biting wit the actress is best known for while Knight plays the sweet no-nonsense Necie with just a hint of sarcasm. Flanagan the best of the three shines as the wealthy Teensy a recovering alcoholic who has faced demons herself. Her exchanges are some of the more memorable especially when after being told by an angry Vivi that she could knock Teensy into next week Teensy tells her friend "And I'll kick your ass on Thursday." Yet the film truly belongs to Burstyn and Judd as the different faces of Vivi. Burstyn is all at once the highly dramatic Southern beauty who has come to terms with (or remained steeped in denial about however you look at it) her painful past while Judd gets to show us the nitty-gritty of what actually happened to Vivi to harden her. Unfortunately the weakest member of this ensemble cast is Bullock as Sidda. She never quite convinces us she grew up in such an eccentric and terribly Southern environment. And not to leave out the men completely--James Garner plays Sidda's father Shep with quiet patience having survived life with his lady love who never loved him quite the same in return. The devoted Connor mirrors Shep but MacFadyen plays him with a lot more backbone.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) couldn't have chosen a better film to make as her directorial debut. Sure she might be pigeonholed forever as the "chick flick" girl but she probably doesn't care much. Khouri had been approached to adapt Wells' novel a few times over the last couple of years but never had the time to do it. When the right time came along Khouri wisely decided it was also time to take on the directing chores. Even as a novice the writer/director shows us she knows her way around a camera. The film captures that Southern feel lush and languid as the moss drips down from the trees. She also knows how to handle her actors too and is able to elicit great performances (although with the likes of Burstyn and Smith this isn't hard to do). The soundtrack also is an added bonus with a variation of music from jazz to Louisiana Cajun. Yet even with all this going for it Divine Secrets misses a beat. In a novel it's great to read stories about an eccentric Southern family but to have vignettes told to you as a framework for a movie it can slow a film down. You probably won't be able to drag your husband to go see this one.