When infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) gets captured in late 19th century Arizona the plan is to transport him to a train en route to Yuma prison(leaving at 3:10 of course). But in the 1800s bringing someone to justice is as arduous as it sounds especially since horses are the only mode of transportation and their carriages the only place to house a prisoner. Across “town ” rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is struggling mightily to support his wife (Gretchen Mol) and kids (Logan Lerman and Benjamin Petry) following a drought and needs to build a well for his family. So when he receives a nominal financial offer to help transport the notorious felon he jumps at it dutifully and desperately. While on the trail that leads to the train station no amount of physical or verbal threat is too much for Wade to break free of with ease. But when it comes to the law-abiding rancher for whom Wade has a certain respect his escape becomes much more complicated than getting out of handcuffs. 3:10 to Yuma’s pairing of Batman and Cinderella Man is perfect in concept and execution and watching the two stars is more than a sight to behold—it is transfixing like watching any two longtime professionals make something difficult look easy. It’s the first of two such powerhouse pairings for Crowe this fall—he co-stars with Denzel Washington in November’s American Gangster—and if this small sample size is any indication big-name costars bring out the best in him. Crowe evokes the kind of real humanistic villain that could only exist in a Western and by playing Wade with equal parts amiability and evil the Oscar winner turns in what is probably his most purely charismatic performance to date. Bale’s character on the other hand—and per usual—is loath to crack a smile a quality the actor has mastered. The Yoda of dialect Welsh-born Bale also has no difficulty switching over to Ol’ West speak but it’s the way he conveys the rancher’s stoicism and will that makes him even more credible. Among the supporting turns Ben Foster (Alpha Dog) stands out as a cranked-up trigger-happy member of Wade’s gang and stalwart Peter Fonda is perfectly cast as a tough ‘n’ gruff bounty hunter. When director James Mangold turned Johnny Cash’s life story into Walk the Line it was the romantic version of a much darker tale. For 3:10 to Yuma a remake of the beloved 1957 Glenn Ford-starrer Mangold gives the Western the same treatment. In attempting to reel in today’s action-happy audience Mangold waters down the drama and speeds up the pace. Minor tweaks for this modern update equal a bit of a departure from true Western style with the dialogue for example as snappy as one of today’s action comedies. But it’s all in good fun. The Old West looks completely authentic and the unforgettable ending is perhaps made possible by the director’s innocuous first two acts. Even so his efforts and those of the screenwriters (Derek Haas Michael Brandt and Halstead Wells who wrote the original) aren’t enough to perform CPR on the Western—not that it’s fair to rest the fate of entire dying genre in their hands.
Lonely Hearts is really two stories set in post WWII America. The main story is about Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) a small-time swindler who bilks war widows out of their insurance money and life savings by getting them to fall in love with him. He then marries them and kills them once he has control of their assets. His neat little scam is thrown off kilter when he discovers that one of his targets Martha Beck (Salma Hayek) is penniless. He tries to dump her but she figures out his scheme and they become lethal lovers and partners in crime. The other story is about the detective (John Travolta) who tracks them down. He is picking up the pieces of his own tragic life after his wife commits suicide. His son (Dan Byrd) is a distant and difficult teenager and his girlfriend (Laura Dern) is trying to help him get on with his life. Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) is excellent as the greasy playboy who seduces and kills lonely women. He plays the sleazy charm and indecisive weakness of Ray Fernandez perfectly. But the standout performance of the film is Salma Hayek. Although Martha Beck on her best day never looked anywhere near as good as Hayek does on her worst the actress makes the cold-blooded character her own doing whatever it takes to get her hands on the ill-gotten gains. The image of a bloody and frustrated Hayek in a frumpy housecoat sucking on a cigarette with a hacksaw in hand complaining about the tenaciousness of one of their victims is priceless. John Travolta is either miscast or misused as the tortured tough guy detective Elmer Robinson. This wasn't a cool character and Travolta is a cool star who seemed to be straight jacketed by a character who is almost completely reactionary. James Gandolfini and Laura Dern do their best in their supporting roles. Writer-director Todd Robinson turns in a serviceable job behind the camera but falls down on the script. Lonely Hearts' main problem seems to be his inability to wiggle away from the facts to create an engaging movie. Robinson is actually the grandson of the real-life detective who brought Fernandez and Beck to justice. Robinson never gets beyond the made-for-TV luridness of the basic story. Gandolfini gets stuck in the role of narrator which would have been much more engaging if Travolta's character would have been the one talking to the audience. Robinson never lets the audience inside the characters long enough to make the film a more emotional experience. This is a problem with true stories; the writers are often not able or willing to be creative with the lives and motivations of the characters who have done extraordinary and well-documented things.
The story of the late great Johnny Cash depicted in Walk the Line is not quite all encompassing. The film dramatizes just one moment in Cash's life: his tumultuous 20s and rise to fame. The young Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) married and straight out of the army struggles with his music finally finding his patented blend of country blues and rock music. Haunted by a troubled childhood Cash sings songs about death love treachery and sin--and shoots straight to the top of the charts. On tour he also meets and falls for his future wife June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) whose refusal to meddle with a married man only further fuels the fire and contributes to his eventual drug addiction. Their cat-and-mouse love story provides the film’s core but unfortunately can’t quite overcome Walk the Line’s formulaic nature. Biopics are generally good to actors. Phoenix and Witherspoon could easily each walk away with Oscar statuettes for turning in two of the most jaw-dropping spellbinding performances since well Jamie Foxx in Ray. Neither actor had any musical background whatsoever but they both underwent painstaking transformations for the sake of authenticity doing all of their own singing as well as guitar-playing for Phoenix. The actor's performance is purely raw and visceral; his vulnerability is aptly palpable at first but then he becomes the Cash with the unflinching swagger. Witherspoon's Carter is Cash's temptress and she'll be yours too by movie's end. She eerily reincarnates Carter as if she was born to play the part. If Walk the Line is the ultimate actor's canvas then Phoenix and Witherspoon make priceless art-and music-together. While good for the actors biopics can prove to be difficult for the director. It’s hard to highlight a person’s life without it coming off like a TV movie of the week. Unfortunately director James Mangold (Copland) plays it safe with Walk the Line. The duets between Johnny and June on stage are about the only electrifying moments of the film. The rest is pretty stereotypical. And it isn’t because the film only focuses on certain years of Cash's life. It's simply not possible to fit a lifetime into the short duration of a film. The problem instead is that Mangold's presentation of Cash's life would lead one to believe that Cash actually exorcised his demons. But in reality his lifelong demons are what endeared him to the layperson. There was nothing cut and dry about the Cash story--and adding a little grit would have given Walk the Line the edge it needed.
All the glamorous Catherine Zeta-Jones has to do is tap her heels three times and, just like that, she's returning to her humble homeland of Wales to do the independent film Coming Out. Under the direction of another Welshwoman, Sara Sugarman, Zeta-Jones will produce and star in the film about a Welsh rugby team whose coach unexpectedly dies. Their only hope is to rely on the deceased coach's gay son to "choreograph them to victory." But don't think Zeta-Jones is bowing out of the limelight forever. Oh, no, she wants that Oscar. So, Zeta-Jones also will star with her equally famous husband Michael Douglas in Smoke and Mirrors. The period drama follows the efforts of a French 19th century illusionist, along with his female sidekick, to expose a sorcerer who is inciting anti-colonial revolution. Production will start mid-fall.
Roberts' Atlantic crossing
Julia Roberts, following the leads of Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones's Diary) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Sliding Doors), will most likely have to take some serious dialect lessons to perfect a British accent for a new untitled film (the one she had in Mary Reilly doesn't count). She will take on the real-life role of a Yorkshire woman whose murder led police on one of their biggest manhunts, followed by one of the most controversial miscarriages of justice in the United Kingdom. Roberts will play Wendy Sewell, whose gravitation towards elicit sex gained her the nickname "The Bakewell Tart," London's The Observer reports. Sewell was murdered in 1973. Maintaining his innocence, 17-year-old Tim Downing was convicted of killing Sewell. Local newspaper editor Don Hale spent six years trying to clear the young man's name. Interesting. Let's see what the Oscar-winning actress dishes up.
Hallstrom and DiCaprio play "Catch"
Speaking of more true stories, director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat) is in final negotiations to direct DreamWorks' Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio, who certainly has taken the heat off himself in the last few years, attached to star. This is based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., the only teen to ever make the FBI's 10 most wanted list for impersonating several hundred different people and writing bad checks between 1964 and 1966. Abagnale Jr. passed himself off as a Pan Am copilot, a chief resident pediatrician and an assistant attorney general. He had written $6 million in bad checks in all 50 states and 26 foreign countries by the time he was caught. That's one busy bee. And with Hallstrom and DiCaprio together again, after their other quirky but compelling film What's Eating Gilbert Grape (DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar), Catch might one to watch out for.
Allen looking at the stars … again
Hey, why mess with a good thing? Tim Allen is no dummy. After his success in 1999's comedy hit Galaxy Quest, Allen is in talks to star in Paramount Pictures' comedy StarChild, about another romp with aliens--Roswell aliens, to be exact. A socially challenged CIA agent is assigned the task of getting a young Roswell alien back home before interplanetary war erupts on Earth. Peter Segal (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) will direct. Think about this one carefully, Tim.
"I know nuuuth-ting!"
But we do. Looks like the brainy fellows at Revolution Studios have decided to bring the wacky and popular '60s and '70s TV sitcom Hogan Heroes to the big screen. We'll get to see all the shenanigans of Hogan (maybe Tim Allen should think about this one instead) and his oddball band of World War II POWs, as they run an underground Allied base of operations at the camp while pulling a fast one on the incompetent Col. Klink and his sidekick, Sgt. Schultz (Chris Farley would have been great). And why not? The studios haven't completely tapped out the arsenal of old TV shows as possible movie material. Ironically, the original series' star, Bob Crane, is having his own life brought to the big screen by director Paul Schrader. The film, Auto-Focus, highlights the sordid details of Crane's life after Heroes that ultimately led to his brutal murder in 1978.
Court TV makes movies
Court TV, which owes its popularity to the sensational trials of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, has decided on its first original movie. It is a project on the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, during which four black girls were killed. The case made headlines recently when an Alabama jury convicted Thomas Blanton of the crime. Blanton is the second man brought to justice in this case after the 1977 conviction of Robert Chambliss. Tentatively titled A Bombing in Birmingham, production will start in the late summer for a 2002 airing. Not sure, though, if anyone can outdo Spike Lee's extraordinary Oscar-nominated documentary on the same subject, 4 Little Girls. That's a hard act to follow.
The power of three
Indie gal-pals Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk will star in Enter Fleeing for writer/director Rebecca Miller. Based on Miller's collection of short stories, Personal Velocity, the film tells the tale of three women-Greta (Posey), Delia (Sedgwick) and Paula (Balk)-who each struggle to flee from the men who confine their personal freedom. Sounds like the ultimate chick flick--an empowering chick flick, the best kind. Shooting begins this week in New York.
Rap Queen large and in charge
Rap singer/actress/talk show host Queen Latifah is in negotiations to star and executive produce the comedy In the Houze for Disney and Hyde Park Entertainment. A man takes to the Internet to find a date but ends up embarking on an online relationship with a convict (Latifah) who makes up several stories about herself. When she's finally released, she seeks out the guy and wreaks havoc on his upper-middle-class life. This will mark the versatile Latifah's first starring role in a film, having played mostly supporting characters in films like The Bone Collector and Living Out Loud.