Dreamer is another one of those family films--based on a true story no less--that makes you feel guilty for not liking it because it means so well. The film revolves around the Cranes who have worked on their Kentucky horse farm for generations. But gifted horseman Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) loses his love for the job when the farm hits hard times. His estranged father Pop (Kris Kristofferson) feels like his son has given up unnecessarily. Even Ben’s young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) can’t get through to her dad. The only way this family can heal is by helping an injured horse named Sonya get ready for a seemingly impossible goal: to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Say it together: “Awww!” At least the film gets it half right in its casting. Russell is perfect as the beleaguered Ben a man who needs a little inspiration to get back on track and he thankfully never takes it over the top. Same goes for Kristofferson who is aptly crusty and unwilling to give his son an inch--that is until his granddaughter and that darned horse melt his heart. And the family resemblance is uncanny; apparently the two actors have been told quite often how much they look like each other. The one misstep here is Fanning. Yes she is an extraordinarily gifted actress for her age but Cale should have been played by a happy sunny child. The oh-so-serious Fanning doesn’t really qualify. Also Elisabeth Shue as the mom is all wrong. A horse farmer’s wife? Please. Writer-director John Gatins takes a big gamble making his directorial debut with a movie about an underdog horse. First there’s the underdog part. This year seems a bit saturated with the plot device what with films like Cinderella Man and most recently Greatest Game Ever Played. Second there’s the whole horse thing. It’s just going to be hard to top the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit--the quintessential true horse-racing movie to beat them all. True Dreamer is based on a true story and is nicely--albeit conventionally--framed. But the film isn’t unique in any way. It’s the same feel-good family stuff we’ve been swallowing all year. See? I told you I’d feel guilty for knocking it.
Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) Duke are cousins--two hell-raisers who drive fast sell moonshine and bed sexy farm girls all across Georgia's Hazzard County. They've got another cousin Daisy Duke (Jessica Simpson) a drop-dead hottie who waits tables at the local watering hole. If someone gets a little too friendly with the gal she's knocks 'em on their ass--and if her cousins get into trouble she shakes hers to get them out of it. Then there's Uncle Jesse Duke (Willie Nelson) who makes the moonshine on his farm tells bad jokes and sings country-western songs. I can't quit thinking about how the Duke family dynamics work. They're all tight-knit cousins right? But Uncle Jesse isn't the father to any of them. So like where's the rest of the Dukes? There's gotta be other siblings parents maybe. It perplexes me. But I digress. Suffice to say the Dukes are always outrunning--and out-jumping--the local law enforcement in their souped-up Dodge Charger the General Lee. The boys are also constantly doing battle with the crooked county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) who cooks up one nefarious plan after another to make Hazzard County his own personal cash cow only to be thwarted by those darn Dukes. Dagnabbit.
Although some diehard fans of the TV show may disagree the casting for this feature film redo is pretty spot on. Knoxville and Scott do just fine as the rip-roarin' Duke cousins bantering about one upping each other--you know boys stuff. Nelson's still got the whole pigtail thing going for him but he looks like he's having a good time. Reynolds does too but he's definitely a lot slicker--and a lot better looking--than the show's original Boss Hogg Sorrell Booke. As the bumbling police veteran character actor M.C. Gainey who always plays bad guys at least gets to show off some comedy chops as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. Michael Weston (Garden State) as the wimpy Deputy Enos Strate is sufficiently reduced to a puddle whenever Daisy is around. And then there's Simpson. My my my. It's obvious the camera (and whose ever behind it) loves every inch of her and she tends to light up the screen whenever she's on it. Of course playing Daisy in her acting debut isn't much of a stretch but Simpson still shows a comic flair. The singer-turned-actress could actually become a fairly serviceable comedic actress if she plays her cards right.
This is what director Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers) had to say about making The Dukes of Hazzard: "I had a poster of Daisy Duke [played in the original show by Catherine Bach] on my wall when I was nine that was very inspiring and when you combine the prospect of a new Daisy Duke with the opportunity to send the General Lee flying through the air again it was impossible for me to say no." Well Jay actually you could have said no and maybe the whole Hazzard as a feature idea would have gone away. It's perfectly suitable to have a television show be about nothing but cars flying through the air hot women in skimpy clothes and idiotic behavior. We'll always accept brain-friendly crap on TV. But to be subjected to an entire feature-length film of mindless stupidity is just too much at least in Hazzard's case. Sure watching the General Lee perform seemingly impossible stunts is fun. Apparently 28 Dodge Chargers had to be converted into the multiple General Lees needed for the film and the parts had to be hunted down on the Internet in junkyards or by word of mouth. Still after about the 100th time the car jumps over something you've had quite enough.
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.
Jesse James (Colin Farrell) his brother Frank (Gabriel Macht) and his cousins Bob (Will McCormack) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) come back to their farms in Missouri after fighting for the South in the Civil War. Yet when they return they find a corrupt railroad baron Thaddeus Rains (Harris Yulin) has captured the deeds to their homes to build his railroad. When Rains uses unnecessary force to get them off the land James and his comrades set out to ruin Rains and his plans and seek the ultimate revenge. They become the infamous James-Younger gang led by the charismatic James who rob banks and blow up railways. As Rains and his henchman Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) launch the biggest manhunt of the Old West James starts to lose interest in the gang's activities as a rivalry between he and Cole springs up and as he falls in love with the beautiful Zee Mimms (Ali Larter). But can James escape justice?
Irish-born Farrell has certainly been making a name for himself especially with his buzzed-about performance in last year's indie fave Tigerland. Unfortunately he chose to make this film rather than something a little more challenging. He does a nice job playing the legendary outlaw--and he looks pretty damn good doing it--but the part doesn't require much. However all the boys including Macht as Frank James Caan as Cole Younger and McCormack as Bob Younger actually join Farrell in trying to flesh out real characters rather than cardboard cutouts--and nearly succeed. The camaraderie between them may have been carried off-screen as well. However the rest of the cast doesn't necessarily follow suit. Dalton is dull as Pinkerton with an unrecognizable accent and Larter really doesn't have a clue what she's doing although next to Farrell she looks fetching. Anyone would.
The main problem with the film once again didn't have much to do with the acting--but everything to do with the terribly clichéd script. All the great acting in the world can't help trite dialogue and predictable plot lines. And these young actors certainly can't rise above the material. When Mama James (played by the completely wasted Kathy Bates) prays her son comments "her talking to the Lord is not what worries me it's that He talks back." Clever very clever. Face it the western genre is a dying breed. Anyone remember the really bad 1990 Young Guns? The Academy Award-winning Unforgiven may have been the last great and original Western to come out of Hollywood. Or maybe they finally need to put the Jesse James story to rest. Sure the infamous character makes a compelling antihero but it's been given the big-screen treatment too many times to count. It's time to give it up.
Anything to keep Sisqo from making another "Thong Song." Variety reports today that the erstwhile Dru Hill member turned soloist has signed with Miramax for his first major film role.
The film, a teenybopper romantic comedy titled "Getting Over Alison," will have Sisqo play the best friend of a high school b-ball player (Ben Foster) who’s trying to win back his girlfriend (Kirsten Dunst).
In order to do the flick, the 22-year-old singer has quit as the opening act to world-dominating boyband 'N Sync’s U.S. tour.
ROAD CRUSIN’: "Road Trip’s" Breckin Meyer will move to the small screen for his next project, a comedy pilot called "The Near Future" for HBO.
COUCH POTATOES: Indie flick "Fast Sofa" has found its leads. Daily Variety says that Adam Goldberg and Rose McGowan will star in the projectm, which goes into production in July.
HOMESTEAD CREW: Timothy Dalton and Kathy Bates have joined the cast of the action comedy "Jesse James," Variety reports. Bates will play Jesse James’ mother, Dalton the bad guy who’s trying to take over their land.
WORLD TRADE: Telltale Films -- a U.K.-based production company headed by husband-wife team Jim Threapleton and Kate Winslet -- have inked a deal with Intermedia. It will be in charge of the worldwide distribution of Telltale films.