Set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1940s—a favorite area of exploration for writer-director Guillermo del Toro—the story follows dreamy 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she’s uprooted and relocated to a remote military outpost when her sickly mother (Ariadna Gil) marries the wantonly cruel camp commander Captain Vidal (Sergei Lopez). With the compassionate but secretive housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) as the closest thing to a friend she has in the oppressive environment Ofelia escapes into a richly textured fantasy world. She follows a dragonfly she believes is a fairy into a landscaped but neglected garden maze she recasts as the lair of the goatish godling Pan (Doug Jones). He tells her she’s the last heir to a magical otherworldly kingdom and charges her with several tasks to help her reclaim her birthright. As her personal world grows more and more grim—the impending birth of her half-brother threatens her mother’s health her step-father grows colder and colder in his bid to crush the resistance and Mercedes’ hidden agenda places her in jeopardy as well—Ofelia soon finds herself tangling with hideous monsters both imagined and all too real often having difficulty distinguishing which is the more dangerous. The astonishingly real performance of the amazing young Spanish actress Baquero as Ofelia anchors the film firmly in both its real world and fantasy environments as only the convincing imagination of a child could. Lopez is an equally compelling discovery as the callous Vidal pitiless vicious and malevolent while still remaining believably human throughout. He’s unblinking in his depiction of a thoroughly vile and cruel man but avoids any aspect of cartoonish evil. And Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as Mercedes is a wonder as well with her remarkably expressive face unlimited by the film’s Spanish language barriers. Kudos too to Doug Jones a whisper-thin actor who specializes in “creature” roles (he’s played Abe Sapien in del Toro’s Hellboy and will be the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel) who somehow magically delivers fully-formed performances as both the faun Pan and the freakish Pale Man through layers and layers of latex. Pan's Labyrinth is unquestionably Guillermo del Toro’s finest film work to date as pure an artistic vision as is likely to be committed to celluloid. He wisely worked outside the Hollywood system in his native Spain to bring his dark tale to life. The story exists in that shadowy netherworld between childhood and adulthood innocence and awareness of the world’s more sinister nature and its characters and themes are explored in ways that no mainstream film would ever allow. On the surface the trappings are Tim Burton-esque but the dark corners Pan's Labyrinth peers into are grim and gloomy indeed; del Toro is never afraid to delve into the murkiest of directions that to audiences used to more conventional movies are heart-wrenching even gut-churning but ultimately emotionally honest and in unexpected ways as immensely satisfying as they are haunting. The film is the announcement of the complete arrival of a major filmmaker and we can only hope that the qualities del Toro brings to this work do not get lost in the maze of Hollywood for future films.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name Fast Food Nation has three intertwined stories revolving around the fast food industry. Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) is a corporate marketing guy assigned to put a positive spin on the bad news that fecal traces has been found in the meat. He goes to the meat factory to investigate and doesn’t like what he sees but no one offers him a viable solution. Then there’s Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) Mexican immigrants who cross the border illegally. The only job they can get is in the meat factory. She bears with demeaning sexual advances while he faces the unhealthy and dangerous conditions to try for the American Dream. Finally we meet Amber (Ashley Johnson) who works in a local franchise. She’s just a high school girl trying to pay for her car insurance. This isn’t her future but it dominates her present. The corporate story is a comedy about ineffective management and media spin. The immigrants’ story is a hard drama about a bad life. Amber’s story straddles both lines--a slacker teen comedy but also introspective about what the job is doing to her soul. It may be no secret these days but it’s still fascinating. There is plenty of juicy dialogue for actors to sink their teeth into (pun intended). Kinnear plays the corporate suit as lovably as possible. He’s the put-upon business cog similar to his characters in The Matador and Little Miss Sunshine but funnier because it’s the system that’s futile not his own dreams. Valderrama has a smaller part just supporting his wife going through a horrible life with noble determination. Moreno is as heartbreaking as she was in her Oscar-nominated performance in Maria Full of Grace. You sense so much potential in her and she’s stuck in the factory demeaned by sexual harassment and unable to save her sister from succumbing to it. She adds new colors of despair to the immigrant experience. Johnson is careful not to make her character too wise beyond her years. She really is just a normal kid. High school sucks so do counter jobs. It’s not about being unique just relatable. Cameos stand out too. Ethan Hawke plays the coolest uncle ever. He comes to town for two scenes spouts off his cool-uncle advice and then leaves. Even though he’s a self-confessed loser he’s convincing. And he buys her beer. Bruce Willis gives a speech on the meat industry with his David Addison smirk while chomping into a burger. We’re sold. Director Richard Linklater does a good job keeping the comedy and drama balanced. He cuts back and forth between stories at sensible intervals. Towards the end Greg Kinnear disappears for a long time but Ashley Johnson’s story beefs up to compensate. Showing the inner workings of the meat factory is pretty powerful. Cow guts falling out and bodies mangled by machinery are not fun things to watch but they are important to remember. It’s all up there on the screen but not gratuitous—and doesn’t have to ruin meat forever. Just think how all foods have processes that we don’t see and still taste good. There are plenty of scenes in which the characters are talking a real Linklater specialty (Before Sunset Before Sunrise for example). Whether they’re talking about meat or minimum wage jobs or life ambitions the conversations have a catchy flow. The satire of corporate America and slacker lifestyles juxtaposed against the drama of immigrant life makes Fast Food Nation both ridiculously funny and appropriately uncomfortable.
Top Story: Two More Academy Screeners Online
Hot on the heels of the revelation that two screeners intended for Academy members' use only were available online comes the news that two more screeners have been found floating around on the Internet, Associated Press reports. A VHS copy of House of Sand and Fog was found up for sale on eBay, and Cold Mountain was found available for download. The Los Angeles Times reports that while the latter has not been traced, House was found to belong to Ivan Kruglak, an Academy member who firmly denies putting the video on eBay, blaming the duplication house that made his copy. The DVD/video screeners, so dubbed because they allow Academy members to screen and judge Oscar contenders without having to attend theater screenings, have been the subjects of vociferous debate since their ban and its subsequent repeal last year. The Academy added tracking codes to each tape so any Academy member's copy found for sale or online for download could be easily traced back to its owner. Earlier in the week, the Academy said copies of Something's Gotta Give and The Last Samurai had been posted online.
Law Is Stronger and Happier Post-Divorce
In the wake of his breakup with Sadie Frost, his wife of nearly seven years, Jude Law says he is happier and stronger than before, AP reports. The 31-year-old star of Cold Mountain is looking on the bright side when it comes to his divorce: "It changes your life, I think, when you enter into a marriage and it can change it just as much as when you're part of a breakup," he said on British TV, "But I certainly feel stronger emotionally and happier in myself, if not a little battered and bruised." Frost cited Law's "unreasonable behavior" for adding to her post-natal depression after the birth of their third child, Rudy. They were divorced in October of last year.
Spears Blames Vegas Vibe For Wedding
Speaking on MTV's Total Request Live, Britney Spears claimed it was the atmosphere of Las Vegas that made her marry her childhood friend Jason Alexander in a late night ceremony, AP reports, and her belief in the institution of marriage remains unshaken. "I do believe in the sanctity of marriage, I totally do," said Spears, "(But) I was in Vegas, and it took over me." The marriage between the 22-year-olds was annulled two days after the January 3rd ceremony at the Little White Chapel. Spears declined to comment on her feelings for Alexander saying that information was "personal."
White Stripes Singer Pleads Innocent
Jack White, lead singer of the band the White Stripes, pleaded innocent in the misdemeanor aggravated assault case against him, AP reports. The Detroit native is charged with assaulting Von Blondies singer Jason Stollsteimer at a Detroit concert last month. White reportedly punched Stollsteimer in the face seven times, leaving him with a swollen eye and a bloody nose, according to police. White claims he struck in self-defense. The 28-year-old faces up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted. White is currently appearing in a small role in the film, Cold Mountain and will soon attend the Grammy Awards where he and fellow Stripe Meg White are nominated for three Grammys.
Diana Ross' Ex-Husband Killed
Diana Ross' ex-husband, avid mountaineer Arne Naess, was killed Tuesday in a mountain climbing accident in South Africa, AFP reports. Naess, who was in his 60s, fell to his death sometime around 12:30 p.m. in the Western Cape Province town of Franschoek where he was visiting. The Norway native was married to Ross for 13 years in a union that produced two sons. The couple divorced in 1999. A formal inquest will be held to determine what lead to Naess' death.
The Passion To Open on 2,000 Screens
In an unusual move for a partially self-financed non-studio film, Mel Gibson's directorial effort The Passion of Christ will open in 2,000 theaters on Feb. 25, Reuters reports. The film, which depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus and features Latin and Aramaic dialog, had trouble even finding a distributor due to its controversial subject matter. Gibson's own Icon Productions and independent distributor Newmarket Films will distribute the film, which has been praised by Christian religious groups for its accuracy. Some Jewish groups have expressed concern that the film might promote anti-Semitic feeling with its depiction of Jesus' death according to the New Testament.
MTV Reality Shows for Diaz, Duff
After the recent shuttering of Ashton Kutcher's successful Punk'd, MTV is ready to find new reality programming. MTV will begin airing a new round of programming this year starring such teen and teen-friendly stars as Cameron Diaz, Hilary Duff and Frankie Muniz, Variety reports. Diaz will be featured traveling the world, while Duff's project remains unspecified. Frankie Muniz of Fox's Malcolm in the Middle will co-create and star in a show in which high-school students get to live out their fantasies. All the projects are still listed as being in development.
Trump Slams CBS Boss Moonves
Real-estate mogul and newly minted reality star Donald Trump lashed out at CBS head Leslie Moonves Wednesday at a press conference to promote his NBC show, The Apprentice, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Trump, whose first attempt at reality programming seems to be a hit, attacked Moonves repeatedly during the press conference, calling CBS top dog, "the most highly overrated person in television." Moonves apparently incurred Trump's wrath when he failed to renew his contract to air Trump's Miss Universe pageant as well as two other beauty pageants also owned by the tycoon. "If Les Moonves was a contestant [on Apprentice], he would have been fired by the third episode," Trump told reporters, who responded with a mixture of gasps and nervous laughter.
Singer Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio have obtained a permanent restraining order against Venezuelan actor-singer Juan Carlos Diaz, the Associated Press reports. Diaz, 33, was ordered to keep away from the Estefan family, home, businesses and gym. Diaz had previously accused Emilio Estefan of making unwelcome sexual advances toward him at the gym, but the Estefans sued Diaz for defamation and accused him of stalking them.
Warren Beatty has dropped out of the lead role in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill and will be replaced by David Carradine. Tarantino told Variety: "Me and Warren and Lawrence [Bender] were having dinner the other night, and Warren said, 'Why haven't you gone to David Carradine with this?' And it became mutually obvious to us that this wasn't the one for me and Warren to do together." Carradine, who starred in the 1992 television series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, will join Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah and Lucy Liu when filming begins in June.
Paramount Pictures and Deep River Productions have acquired the screen rights to the classic CBS TV series The Honeymooners, Variety reports. Mad About You co-creator Danny Jacobson, who will be writing the script, said he will concentrate on the actual honeymoon rather than replicating the original episodes.
ABC has pulled the plug on the drama Once and Again starring Sela Ward, the New York Daily News reports. The show debuted in September 1999 to rave reviews, but a steady decline in ratings, which some speculate was caused by frequent scheduling moves, left programming executives wondering about the show's future. The final episode will air on April 15.
Following weeks of speculation, it appears as though the Grammy award show may be heading back to New York. According to Reuters, Grammys chief Michael Greene moved the awards show to Los Angeles in 1998 after a feud of sorts with former mayor Rudy Giuliani. Although officials at the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences declined to comment on the rumors, they did say a major announcement will be made next Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
It seems Jennifer Lopez's plans to open her new Cuban-style family restaurant in Pasadena, Calif., in time for the Oscar rush didn't pan out. Although the necessary permits are in place, her publicist told People the eatery would open some time in April. The restaurant is located in Pasadena's historic retail shopping district.
Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean has put his two-year-old waterfront Orlando home up for sale, Launch.com reports. The 6,200-square-foot home--which has six bedrooms, five full bathrooms, an in-ground screen-enclosed swimming pool and a THX-equipped theater--can be yours for a cool $1.95 million. McLean is apparently interested in buying a bigger place in southern California.
George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic have announced the tour dates for the first leg of their upcoming spring tour, Launch.com reports. Known for their legendary showmanship, outrageous costumes and theatrical sets that feature a spacecraft called the Mothership, the funk musicians will begin their tour April 2 in Washington, D.C. No word on whether the Mothership will accompany the group.
Rodney Dangerfield received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Wednesday, the AP. The 80-year-old comedian and star of Caddyshack was honored at a ceremony and praised by Jay Leno and Bob Saget. Although he suffered a mild heart attack last November, Dangerfield continues to perform regularly at Las Vegas' MGM Grand hotel and casino and is finishing his autobiography, It's Not Easy Being Me.
A hospital spokesman said Thursday that Grammy-winning singer Lyle Lovett was resting comfortably after being trampled by a bull Wednesday. Dr. Kevin Coupe, who performed the three-hour surgery on Lovett's badly broken leg, said 20 pieces of bone were broken in his leg and that a full recovery could take at least six months, CNN reports.
Rollling Stones guitarist Ron Wood has fallen off the wagon and checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic in Arizona, Sky News reports. This is not Wood's first time in rehab. In 2000, the musician checked into UK's The Priory for treatment of alcohol addiction. Wood is currently working on a solo album and will be joining the Stones' 40th anniversary tour later this year.