Last night's SNL premiere saw plenty of Alec Baldwin goodness, including his Rick Perry and Tony Bennett impressions, but the moment you absolutely must know about is the monologue. As you've heard over and over for the past week -- and as Baldwin made sure to remind us of during the show -- with this hosting gig he officially broke Steve Martin's hosting record of 15 times on the SNL stage. We saw a delightful little exchange when they tied the record, so it was pretty much expected that Martin would show up this time to defend his title.
Of course, Martin is very serious about this record so he brought along some professionals to make sure Baldwin acheived this title legally and without the use of any performance-enhancing drugs, which I'm guessing are a little greener in the comedy world.
Is this a sign of the times? Major movie star Halle Berry may be switching gears and heading to the small screen for a drama series being shopped around to premium networks like HBO and Showtime.
The series, dubbed Higher Learning, would find the Oscar-winning actress as a college professor. (That's really all we've got at this point, but of course my imagination adds in Berry's sex appeal and translates that minimal description into a premise that, much like Californication did for David Duchovny for a season, would allow Berry to play the sexy professor role.) The folks behind the show want a quick turnaround, according to Deadline, so the decision on whether or not the series spec makes the grade will likely come about soon.
Could Berry's potential career shift have something to do what many critics are calling The Golden Age of Television? Some are venturing further to say that while TV continues to blossom, film is suffering. Perhaps that explains it? Of course, the reverse of that argument is that Berry hasn't exactly been on fire for the past few years, she's had a couple of films here and there, and while she's got a few on deck for 2011 and 2012, you could say her career is simmering a bit. Television is typically a refuge for actors (especially women) when their film careers start to die down a bit. (Hello, Glenn Close on Damages, Toni Collette on United States of Tara, Steve Buscemi on Boardwalk Empire...the list is endless.) Then we have folks like Zooey Deschanel, whose stars are far from tarnished, turning from film to television for their next projects. Berry's potential series just brings this recent shift into greater light. Maybe the grass is greener on TV, maybe we really are in this supposed golden age of television after all?
Luke (Steven Strait) and Brier (Pell James) first cross paths on a New York City subway before the doors shut on their instant attraction to one another. Of course it is immediately and abundantly clear that they will naturally meet up again before long but where and how? The answers: L.A. and well it's complicated. Each having forgotten about the other Brier a top model in NYC decides she needs a change of scenery and tells her agent (Carrie Fisher clearly in it for the paycheck) she's heading out to L.A. to pursue acting while Luke and his brother Euan (Kip Pardue) decide to move to the West Coast as well. Once there Brier befriends Clea (Ashlee Simpson) and on her first night in town takes Brier to a local dive bar where Luke works as a struggling "musician." Wow that's some coincidence. There is an instant re-connection between Luke and Brier but she refuses to get involved with musicians since her rock-star ex mistreated her. Instead she shifts her focus on generating buzz for Luke. Eventually Luke gets the big recording contract becomes the rock-star jerk he'd swore he'd never become and loses it all. But all is well when Brier decides she can no longer resist Luke's ballads and Metallica-guitarist-circa-'85 hair.
The theme of Undiscovered could apply to its cast. Each of the four leads are on the cusp of being on the cusp and certainly they hope this movie will take them one step closer. For James that might happen. She is a natural on screen and gives a breakthrough performance as the comely Brier. Strait is also a relative newcomer. After turning his debut performance in this summer's Sky High he holds his own in Undiscovered but seems to be relegated to taking his shirt off to make the teenyboppers swoon. Finally there's Simpson who is also making her major-role debut. It's awkward to see her on-screen and yes subconsciously you wait for her to make a noticeable mistake (or butcher a voice-over due to acid reflux). Of course it doesn't happen; she moves along pretty smoothly but is at times subjected to dialogue that seems beyond her especially when she has to words big words such as "banter." And certainly it's not her fault when she describes Luke--a musician best left struggling--as "a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello." That's just someone else's words she reciting.
Prolific music-video director Meiert Avis is making his feature film directorial debut with Undiscovered--and his obvious greenness shows. At times the film is more like a music video surrounded by a weak storyline than a cohesive film. His expertise in the rather linear realm of music videos doesn't exactly qualify him for the complexities of a 90-minute film contrived and straightforward as his debut may be. Avis tries to employ every possible clichéd obstacle for the characters to overcome--which reeks of inexperience but could also be the screenwriter's fault. No doubt Avis feels at home with newcomers such as Strait and Simpson who--for all intents and purposes--sing and act but the plethora of singing scenes feel forced. That is forced into the script to showcase the soundtrack when the movie goes undiscovered at the box office.
Milwaukee Brewers' big swinger Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) is a baseball star--a man with big talent a bigger mouth and an even bigger ego. Nine years ago he achieved legendary status by getting 3 000 base hits and was revered by his fans but had burned most of the bridges with everyone else especially when he stuck it to his team by abruptly retiring from the game. No matter. Stan spent years capitalizing on his "Mr. 3000" persona and now is just waiting for his final honor--induction into the Hall of Fame. What he gets instead however is a slap in the face when it's discovered that three of his 3 000 hits aren't valid making him only "Mr. 2 997." To reclaim his record Stan is forced to return to the field and play once again for his former team and earn those three hits--and it ain't easy. The game has changed and so has he--pushing 50 Ross is faced with both physical and mental challenges. Not only must he measure up to the new kids on the block like the Brewers' cocky power hitter T-Rex Pennebaker (Brian White) he also has to contend with less-than-supportive sports journalists especially his former flame Mo Simmons (Angela Bassett) all of whom remember the lashings they took from invective-spoutin' Stan the Man back in the day. But this time around something happens to Stan. Now hungry to prove himself he finds his love for the sport and his team renewed realizing there is a difference between having a successful life and a meaningful one. See? I told you it was corny.
Bernie Mac is a smart man. Having played smaller but memorable roles in films such as Ocean's Eleven and Bad Santa Mac has made a wise choice picking Mr. 3000 as his first foray into leading man territory. First of all Mac actually used to play the game pretty seriously so you can definitely feel the love but the character also really suits this king of comedy emphasizing his gruff sense of humor (the scene in which he tells a group of school children their favorite story character has died just to shut them up is classic Mac) while also showing off some genuine acting chops as the self-centered Stan tries to change his life. Mac can pull off the romantic stuff too if you can believe it. He clicks immediately with the always-good Bassett as the two put on a rather refreshing display of affection tinged with some obvious history from their shared past. Stan also has a quirky but genuine relationship with his former teammate Boca (as in Boca Raton Fla. because of his trademark velour jogging suits) played by character actor Michael Rispoli (Death to Smoochy). Boca is Stan's only real and honest friend'; his cryptic refrain "That's why I love you man " becomes a running gag throughout the film. Other supporting standouts include White (who is actually a former pro-football player) as Stan's arrogant protégé and Paul Sorvino as the Brewers' stoic team manager who says next to nothing--until it really counts.
Baseball movies always seem to work. There's just something about that all-American pastime that gets moviegoers' emotions stirring--the underdogs; the camaraderie; the jaded ball player; the crack of the bat; the magical home run; the peanut-chomping fans; and of course the pure love of the game. Director Charles Stone III (Drumline) captures a good deal of that in Mr. 3000 as well as adding some funkiness to the proceedings with his savvy cast and a cool old time R&B soundtrack (Earth Wind and Fire gets you grooving every time). Still there's an inherent problem: We've seen this baseball formula done so many times before in better movies such as Bull Durham and The Natural. It's also highly predictable that Stan is going not only learn some lessons about life but will also impart that wisdom and inspiration to his younger teammates. Yeah yeah. Even Stan ends the movie saying "Was that corny enough for you?" It is--but that's why we love it man.
Based on a series of six Marvel Comics created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 The Hulk revolves around a scientist named Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) who following a laboratory snafu absorbs a normally deadly dose of gamma radiation. Bruce thinks he has escaped unscathed--until he gets mad ... real mad which causes him to turn into a huge rampaging green monster known as the Hulk. In order to make this 40-year-old gamma theory somewhat more believable for today's science-savvy moviegoers screenwriter James Schamus and his team decided to arm the script with a somewhat more convincing scientific rationale. The story follows Bruce's father David Banner (Nick Nolte) who as a young scientist conducted prohibited genetic experiments on himself thus changing his son's life before he was even out of the womb. While modernizing the scientific reasoning behind Bruce's transformation makes sense it's a pity it had to be done in such a heavy-handed way. By adding such an elaborate layer to the story The Hulk becomes more about Bruce and David's tormented past and any semblance of a plot is buried in melodramatic dialogue between the characters. The result is a comic book adaptation that is much too serious for its own genre.
Despite the theatrical discourse don't expect complex characters to emerge from The Hulk. Although Bana (Black Hawk Down) is a good choice for the lead of the nerdy scientist and reluctant hero his character is so busy pretending he doesn't have any problems that the audience never gets to see his emotional side. Bana's character grimaces convincingly as he represses his anger for example but he fails ever to open up on a personal level to his love interest in the film his co-worker Betty played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Betty is Bruce's old flame but the two are obviously still in love: she is obsessed with fixing whatever is broken about him. As the Hulk Bruce need only look at Betty once for his anger to subside and allow him to morph back into human form. They have weighty discussions about the significance of their dreams and Bruce's past yet they never seem to connect on any level. One of the film's best performances comes from Nolte (The Good Thief) in the role of Bruce's mad scientist father David. Almost Shakespearean at times Nolte--scraggly hair and all-- completely immerses himself in the role. The cast's performances however are muted by the general heaviness of this would-be actioner. Look for quick cameo appearances by Lou Ferrigno (from the 1970s TV series The Incredible Hulk) and Marvel legend Stan Lee.
For his follow-up to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Ang Lee has turned to bigger greener matters. The Hulk the director's visual effects-intense picture (with a little help from Industrial Light & Magic) is stunning and startlingly well done. The green beast's computer generated movements from his heaving chest to the single leaps that spring him well into a different zip code are convincingly real. Not only does the ground shake when this goliath lands but his momentum even throws him off balance at times sending his lumbering arms flailing. But while the CGI Hulk has been meticulously honed Lee's homage to the world of print comic books--using multiple screens to present concurrent storylines and alternate angles of the same scene--is off-putting: Rival researcher Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas) suspiciously walks out of the lab Betty reacts in one panel Bruce sits back in another. The simultaneous screens don't necessarily show anything pertinent going on making the far and wide close and medium shots of the character's reactions a distraction rather than a helpful storytelling technique. But the most disconcerting thing about the film is that in its leap from the four-color paneled pages to the big screen it lost its wit.
Will Sarah Michelle Gellar and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" be headed for greener (as in money) pastures at the end of the 2000-2001 TV season?
According to a report in Seventeen magazine, WB network executives are already grousing about the cult-fave show's price tag, which currently runs about $1 million per episode. The worry is that it'll climb (a lot) higher by the time "Buffy's" five-year contract with the network expires in 2001.
"I love the show, but from an economic standpoint, it doesn't have the same place in our lineup that a show like 'ER' has for NBC," an unnamed WB honcho told the magazine.
A WB spokesperson could not be reached for comment today on the report.
The "ER" reference is key. In 1998, an angst-ridden NBC, looking at a "Seinfeld"-free future, agreed to fork over $13 million to Warner Bros. Television for each and every episode of the top-rated medical drama -- all in the name of preventing the series from bolting to another network. Of course, until the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" onslaught, "ER" was TV's -- as well as NBC's - top-rated show. "Buffy," on the other hand, is TV's 115th most-watched show for the season to date. (It is the WB's No. 2 show, behind the family drama "7th Heaven.")
This isn't the first time, meanwhile, that the possibility's of "Buffy's" flight from the teen-obsessed WB has been raised. The show is produced by 20th Century-Fox Television, which is run by Sandy Grushow, who has indicated in none-too-subtle fashion that if the WB won't pay his asking price for "Buffy," he'll take the show to the Fox network -- or some other deep-pocketed buyer.
THEY'LL KILL FOR RATINGS: So, how do doctors in popular prime-time hospital dramas leave their shows these days?
Catch a fatal disease? Been there, done that more than a decade ago (See: Mark Harmon on "St. Elsewhere.")
Simply walk away, leaving the door open for a possible return? Been there, done that just last season. (See: George Clooney on "ER.")
Well, how about getting stabbed? That might do the trick.
According to reports, unconfirmed (but not denied) by NBC, departing "ER" star Kellie Martin will see her Lucy Knight character die in the Feb. 17 episode from, yes, stab wounds. The knife attack, which goes down in the Feb. 10 installment, also will scratch up co-star Noah Wyle. (But don't worry -- he survives.)
BACK TO SCHOOL: Prolific producer/writer David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "The Practice") will get even more prolific, developing a new school-based ensemble drama series for Fox.
Trade paper reports say the new Kelley project is called "The Faculty" -- not to be confused with the 1998 sci-fi/horror flick of the same name. Kelley will executive produce.