Warner Bros. Entertainment
Due to a scheduling conflict, Jim Carrey was forced to drop out of an upcoming comedy, previously titled Loomis Fargo and co-starring Owen Wilson. Additionally, Zach Galifianakis was just announced as his replacement. The loosely-based-on-real-life film follows a 1997 armored car driver (Galifianakis) who joins with a few criminals to steal from his employers, only to be promptly betrayed.
In a world of highly fragmented comedy cliques, this film is a surprising melting pot, with Galifinakis representing the alternative stand up crowd, Wilson championing the mid 2000s "Frat Pack," producer Lorne Michaels bringing his years as creator of Saturday Night Live, Danny McBride bringing in the Apatow crowd and his own Eastbound and Down fanbase, and Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess. And, oddly enough, the script by Emily Spivey, creator of Up All Night, will be sharing its story cues with Michael Bay's Pain and Gain, which had an oddly similar storyline this past April (a few underachievers rob their rich client in the late '90s).
But the big story is Galifianakis' casting. He will be anchoring the movie as the lead, which should mark quite a switch from Jim Carrey's version of the character. Should we be rooting for Carrey to take back the role? Or supportive of the jump to Galifianakis? It's too close to call, so let's weigh the pros and cons:
Point: Galifianakis can definitely play disgruntled fury straighter than Carrey, who always gives a little hint of mania even when he's supposed to be furious. This could make the Galifianakis version of the story darker.
Counterpoint: But Carrey's expressiveness makes him far more empathetic as a leading man. He can be heartbreakingly open-faced, playing a guileless character who would trust obviously duplicitous criminals without coming across as an idiot (a trap Galifianakis often falls into).
Point: Carrey's already proven he can carry a film, starring in not just big comedies like Ace Ventura but also stranger, less predictable films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (And let's not forget that back when he first hit it big, his human cartoon comedy style wasn't predictable either.)
Counterpoint: Galifianakis has crazy chemistry with pretty much any comedy star you put him up against, even if the films flop. Due Date and The Campaign were uninspired films, but he managed to stand out against Robert Downey Jr. and Will Ferrell, two of the most focus-pulling performers working.
Point: Galifianakis looks like he's be an armored truck driver. That might sound like nothing, but it's not just his busy beard and under eye circles — he can convincingly carry himself like a blue collar guy.
Counterpoint: Carrey plays an amazing con man/criminal. I Love You Phillip Morris was a bit uneven, but Carrey's performance was unbelievable, using his gift for physical comedy to make an unrepentant liar charismatic beyond belief.
Final Judgement: It depends on what type of film they're trying to make. If it's a dark story about a simple driver who gets in over his head, Galifianakis will shine, but if it's more of a madcap romp, we wish it was still Carrey. Either way, the one thing we definitely want from either actor is to see his range.
Much as he did with Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson managed to make his next film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, without revealing a great dea; about the plot, characters, or accruing much hype at all. Sure, if you wanted to, you could find out that it's about the concierge, played by Ralph Fiennes, of a stately Hungarian hotel during the 1920s as he struggles to manage the issues of his guests, from art heists to mixed-up family fortunes (a familiar theme) and the young protegee he teaches (and, presumably, learns from) throughout. It's a mash-up of all his previous films in a way only Anderson could make exciting. Even the smallest change — say, setting the film in the '20s instead of the '60s/'70s — is a seismic one.
For a hard-core Anderson fan, there's a lot to take apart in this poster. First, the whole cast. Of course, there are repeat players, such as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Adrian Brody, and Owen Wilson. Occasional players are also back for seconds, like Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton, returning after the success of Moonrise Kingdom. Surprisingly, this film was written solely by Anderson, who has always had a collaborator (most often Wilson or Roman Coppola, but also Noah Baumbach) on his last eight films.
Most of the poster is the hotel itself. It's enormous enough to be outfitted with plenty of oddities, specialized rooms, and secret passageways. It's grand enough to hear plenty of tales about famous guests (a few kings or queens, perhaps) but also looks new enough that the guests will be rich and demanding. In the background, there are soaring mountain views. Perched on the top of a peak is a stag, who should no doubt be either a symbol or a piece of the plot in this film.
Another suprise is the bold use of pink. Obviously the titular hotel had to be quirky, but pink is not only a bold choice, but an uncharacteristic color for a Wes Anderson film. Usually, Anderson works with yellows and browns, or, in The Life Aquatic and Rushmore, with blue. The color scheme of these films can suggest themes or ideas (the earthiness of Fantastic Mr. Fox, or the sepia nostalgia of The Royal Tenenbaums), but pink is bright, cheery, hardly what comes to mind when hearing "Post WWI Europe." Maybe this hotel will be a tiny pocket of Roaring '20s in a country ravaged by the war. Anderson often writes about privileged, overgrown rich kids who are forced to grow up (just look at The Darjeeling Limited).
Now it's time to excitedly wait for either a trailer or the official soundtrack — the only two things that could tell us more.
Beloved singer Etta James has died at age 73, according to reports from CNN and her manager, Lupe De Leon. The singer was famous for such songs as "Something's Got a Hold on Me" and of course, "At Last." She was suffering from leukemia, dementia, and hepatitis C and she passed away at a hospital in Riverside, Calif.
James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. She suffered from a patchy home life. She was raised without knowing who her father was and was bounced around to various legal guardians, one of whom beat her and forced her to sing for guests. Throughout her life, being commanded to sing was difficult for her. But from traumatic beginnings, came a soulful, rich voice that touched the world from the time she had her big break with “Dance With Me, Henry” in 1954, to the 1960s when she released songs like “All I Could Do Was Cry” and “At Last.” Despite her battle with a drug addiction and alcoholism, she continued to churn out hits through the late 1970s, eventually racking up six Grammys. James’ growly, jazzy style is credited for bridging the gap between Rock and Roll and R&B, and her long list of titles reflects that. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame. She also holds spots on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and 100 Greatest Artists of All Time lists. When she made her comeback in the 1980s, she was received by music lovers the world over with open arms.
But it wasn’t just her voice that we all fell in love with. She was an outspoken spitfire, known for her overt sexual witticisms and raunchy onstage behaviors that led many venues to require audiences to be at least 18 years older to watch her performances – even up until her early 70s. And despite her numerous challenges – not limited to her early home life and problems with drugs – she rose from her troubles and left an incomparable mark on her fans, the music world, and entertainment in general. Even today’s biggest artists know the importance of James’ career; Adele famously praised the singer to The Observer, saying “Everything she sings -- you believe her, even if she never wrote a word of it herself.” And while James clashed with Beyoncè after the singer portrayed her in Cadillac Records, the singer later faulted her dementia for the harsh comments.
James spent her remaining days with her husband and two sons at her side. She will be missed by friends, family, and of course, her multitudes of fans from every age and walk of life. I first listened to James with my mother and her song, “Sunday Kind of Love,” has always been my favorite example of her legendary voice and style. So, in honor of her long and memorable career, I leave you with one of her greatest songs.
We live in an age where six-year-olds have iPhones most of our possessions live in a "cloud" and even the refrigerator connects to the Internet. Like it or not technology has infused itself into every aspect of our lives—so it seems appropriate (and terrifying) that even Santa Claus' gift delivery operation would upgrade to the 2.0 world. Arthur Christmas the latest film from Aardman Animation (the Wallace & Gromit films Chicken Run) introduces us to the newfangled operation. These days Santa (Jim Broadbent) is just a figurehead for a full-scale war game run by the militant Steve (Hugh Laurie) and his band of black ops elves who cruise the December skies in their souped up spaceship sleigh. Business is conducted in the most controlled manner with each elf equipped with dog food launchers and back-up tape dispensers in case of any on-ground mishaps. On the sidelines is Arthur (James McAvoy) a bumbling black sheep who outweighs the entire force in Christmas spirit but can barely stand on two feet.
The opening deliver sequence is expertly directed by Sarah Smith whose action is reminiscent of the highly energized Ratatouille injected with the quirky British humor one would expect from Aardman. But the dazzling setup doesn't turn Arthur Christmas into a bombastic holiday riff instead using its lead to dig underneath the 2.0 landscape to find true magic. When one present goes undelivered Arthur stands up against his complacent family members to right the holiday wrongs. The anxiety-ridden younger son teams up with his Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and an eager wrapper elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) hitching up the classic sleigh and venturing into the great unknown all in the name of a young girl who might wake up gift-less.
The trio's adventure takes them around the globe from the busy streets of Toronto to a colorful Mexican town to the planes of an African wildlife preserve. With each wrong turn and each obstacle to overcome (outrunning a pack of lions while wearing reindeer slippers is no easy feat) Arthur's belief in the greatness of Santa and the wonders of the Christmas are tested. For kids it might be a familiar existential crisis but the warmth that accompanies Arthur's triumphant spirit should resonate with those young and old. That's an achievement in a Christmas movie but Smith's delicate balance of sentimentality and over-the-top humor blend and keep the movie moving at lightning speed.
The movie's 3D animation and stereoscopic display are top-notch but the real extra dimension comes from the cast. Aardman has a knack for realizing characters supporting or leads who feel fully developed—and Arthur Christmas is no exception. Smith and writer Peter Baynham (Borat Arthur) know when you trap the Claus family in the result will be brilliance: Steve commanding the floor Grandsanta telling "when I was young" stories Santa falling asleep Mrs. Claus (Imelda Staunton) keeping the peace and Arthur reminding everyone that it's Christmas. That's as real as actual Christmas dinner gets. The elves of the North Pole are equally eclectic and odd—even with hundreds of workers scurrying around the ship each one gets their time to land a joke. Overlaid on the rousing tale his a whimsical score by Harry Gregson-Williams that much like his work on Narnia feels simultaneously fantastical and exhilarating (as any good sleigh ride should).
There are so many Christmas movies in the pantheon of the season that it's almost unimaginable that another could slip in without relying on a gimmick or cynical spin but Arthur Christmas is as warm fuzzy and hilarious as they come. Crafted with authentic joy performed by lively voice actors and subtly imbued with jokes for all ages (no frame goes by without at least one sight or pun gag) those who catch it this year may find themselves returning every season. It's just that nice.
I say "creepy" because Untraceable’s theory could actually be a reality. The possibility of a tech-savvy psycho setting up a Web site that displays graphic murders could happen with the fate of each of the tormented captives left in the hands of the public: The more hits the site gets the faster the victims die--and in the case of Untraceable die in very gruesome ways. Of course Untraceable also gives us a peek at the good guys--the FBI division that is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting cybercriminals. Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is one such Internet expert who along with her co-worker (Colin Hanks) is stymied by KillWithMe.com’s untraceablity. But soon the movie turns predictable as the cat-and-mouse game gets personal and Marsh must race against the clock to stop the madman. Lane has certainly looked better in her past movies. For obvious effect they’ve made Agent Marsh rather worn-down with dark circles under her eyes and very little makeup as she sits in front of the computer hunting the bad guys all night on the late shift. The fact that she’s also a widow having lost her cop husband to the job and caregiver to her young daughter doesn’t help the woman get anymore rest. Then when the crap starts hitting the fan and people close to Marsh get hurt the actress really shows the pain on her already haggard face. Marsh even admits “I do a lot of things well but I don’t lose people well.” It’s a standard tough-FBI-agent role and Lane is very capable at it. Supporting her is Hanks (Orange County) as the resident comic relief (what little of it there is) as well as Billy Burke (Fracture) the local cop trying to help Marsh catch the psycho Internet killer. As for the killer himself the actor who portrays him (and I won’t give it away) is very effective in the role. There are a couple of other things Untraceable has going for it besides the chilling premise: director Gregory Hoblit who knows his way around a crime thriller having directed gems such as Primal Fear and Fracture and the dank Portland Oregon locale. Hoblit creates just the right amount of tension and dread as the clock ticks down and the race nears its end but something about an overcast rainy environ just lends itself to more doom and gloom doesn’t it? Of course there are also the torture scenes which add a certain level of Hostel-like horror. What Untraceable lacks is a compelling narrative. The bevy of writers involved (never the best of signs) tend to throw in too many conventional thriller plot points--like the red herrings on who the killer is before he’s revealed and explaining why the killer is doing what he’s doing. All these things dilute the film’s initial potential. Still let’s just hope this doesn’t spawn real-life copycats.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
Don’t let the previews fool you—Terabithia isn’t anything like Chronicles of Narnia. Based on the Newbery-Award winning children’s novel by Katharine Paterson the story is more about childhood friendships and the way imagination can quite literally open new worlds. Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) sees himself as an outsider at school—and at home. He really only feels himself when he’s drawing. Then he meets the new kid Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) who has just moved from the big city. Despite their differences—she’s rich he’s poor—they become fast friends. Leslie who likes to spin magical stories opens Jess’ eyes to the possibilities and together they create the secret kingdom of Terabithia a mystical place accessible by swinging on an old rope over a stream in the woods near their homes. Interacting with the Terabithian denizens they’ve imagined both evil and good Jess and Leslie learn to deal with the pressures of their young pre-adolescent lives—and learn what the power of real friendship truly means. The young fresh cast really make Bridge to Terabithia work. Robb and Hutcherson are already veteran kid actors: Robb is best known for stealing hearts in Because of Winn-Dixie (another kid novel adaptation) and popping chewing gum as Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while Hutcherson played the tough older brother in Zathura as well as Robin Williams’ kid in R.V. Their acting experience clearly shows as they make the friendship between Jess and Leslie both genuine and heartfelt. There isn’t a false moment in their performances especially from Hutcherson who at first sends off an I-could-care-less vibe but through his soulful eyes becomes more attached to Leslie and their secret place. And as Jess’ little sister 7 year-old Bailee Madison plays the moppet without any cutesy affectations. As far as the adults are concerned stand outs include Robert Patrick as Jess’ stern dad just trying to make ends meet for his family and Zooey Deschanel as the kids’ music teacher who Jess has a crush on. In 1978 author Katharine Paterson wrote Bridge to Terabithia for her then 11 year-old son David Paterson about a special friendship he had. It was an instant hit. Now David all grown up is able to bring his mom’s touching story to life as one of the writers. Talk about a family effort backed by Walden Media--the geniuses behind Holes and Chronicles of Narnia. Directed by Rugrats creator Gabor Csupo Terabithia truly captures the essence of childhood imagination even I dare say more so than Narnia. Maybe it’s because the idea of Terabithia comes from the minds’ of very real children who are going through very real emotions as they enter into adolescence. Csupo keeps the imagery simple allowing audiences to create a fantasy world filled with mythical creatures right along with the film’s main characters. And if you haven’t read the book you might be surprised by the story’s poignancy. In a saturated field of animated duds and kid films better suited as after-school TV specials Bridge to Terabithia stands out as a one of the better family movies to come around in a long time.