Few of the powerful men who helped shape America in the 20th century are as polarizing as J. Edgar Hoover considering the peaks and valleys of his nearly half-century-long reign as the director of the FBI and his closely guarded private life. However while there is much to debate about whether the heroism of Hoover’s early career outweighs the knee-jerk paranoia that clouded the end of his run at the Bureau and about what really turned on this lifelong bachelor one aspect of Hoover’s life is inarguable: this was a man who possessed a rare gift for establishing and maintaining order. Everything that fell under his control was meticulously kept in its place from the fingerprints on file in the FBI’s database to the cleanly shaved faces of his loyal G-Men.
It’s an unfortunate irony then that J. Edgar the biopic focused on this ruthlessly organized administrative genius is such a sloppy awkwardly assembled mess. Its lack of tidiness hardly suits its central character and is also shockingly uncharacteristic of director Clint Eastwood. The filmmaker’s recent creative renaissance which began in 2003 with the moody Boston tragedy Mystic River may not have been one defined by absolute perfection—the World War II epic Flags of Our Fathers for example is no better than an admirable mixed bag—but it comes to a grinding halt with J. Edgar Eastwood’s least satisfying and least coherent effort since 1999’s True Crime. There’s no faulting the attention paid to surface period details—every tailored suit and vintage car registers as authentic—but on the most fundamental level Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black (an Academy Award winner for Milk as off his game as Eastwood here) haven’t figured out what kind of movie they want to shape around Hoover’s life. For two-thirds of its running time J. Edgar devotes itself to an overly dry recitation of facts about its title character which is about as viscerally thrilling as reading Hoover’s Wikipedia page and then makes a late-inning bid for romantic melodrama totally at odds with the bloodless history-lesson approach favored by the preceding 90 minutes.
The non-chronological narrative structure Black adopts to tell Hoover’s story only adds to the overall disjointedness. Star Leonardo DiCaprio is first seen caked in old-age makeup as Hoover conscious he’s nearing the end of his tenure at the Bureau dictates his memoirs to an obliging junior agent (Ed Westwick). As Hoover describes how he began his career the movie jumps back in time to depict that origin giving the false impression that the dictation scenes with old Hoover will act as necessary structural connective tissue. Instead Black eventually abandons the narrative device altogether leaving the movie rudderless in its leaps backwards and forwards through time. As a result the shuffling of scenes depicting the young Hoover achieving great success alongside his right-hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and those portraying the aging Hoover abusing his power by wire-tapping progressive luminaries (such as Martin Luther King Jr.) that he mistrusts feels frustratingly arbitrary. There’s no real rhyme or reason to why one scene follows another.
DiCaprio does his best to anchor the proceedings with a precise authoritative lead performance. Although his voice is softer than Hoover’s he mimics the crimefighter’s trademark cadence with organic ease and more importantly he manifests Hoover’s unbending fastidiousness in a number of ingenious details like in the way that Hoover reflexively adjusts a dining-room chair while in mid-conversation. But Black’s limited view of Hoover as a tyrannical egotist—the script is close to a hatchet job—denies DiCaprio the chance to play a fully three-dimensional version of the FBI pioneer. Hoover is granted the most humanity in his scenes opposite Hammer’s Tolson which are by far the most compelling in the movie. Possessing no knowledge of the secretive Hoover’s romantic life Eastwood and Black speculate that Hoover and Tolson’s relationship was defined by a mutual attraction that Tolson wanted to pursue but Hoover was too timid to even acknowledge. Hammer so sharp as the privileged Winklevoss twins in The Social Network is the only supporting player given much to do—Naomi Watts’ talents are wasted as Hoover’s generically long-suffering secretary while poor Judi Dench must have had most of her scenes as Hoover’s reactionary mother left on the cutting-room floor—and he runs with it. His mega-watt charisma is like a guarantee of future stardom and he’s actually far more effortless behind the old-age makeup than veterans DiCaprio and Watts manage to be.
While the unrequited love story between Hoover and Tolson is clearly meant to provide J. Edgar with an emotional backbone the movie takes so long to get to it that it feels instead like an afterthought. Where in all the dutiful historical-checklist-tending that dominates the film is the Eastwood who flooded the likes of The Bridges of Madison County Letters From Iwo Jima and last year’s criminally underrated Hereafter with oceans of pure feeling? He’s a neo-classical humanist master who has somehow ended up making a cold dull movie that reduces one of recent history’s most enigmatic giants to a tiresome jerk.
On the surface Stay seems to be a straightforward psychological drama about a psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) who is trying to keep a mysterious patient Henry (Ryan Gosling) from killing himself. But the deeper we get into it the decidedly weirder it gets. And not necessarily in a good way. Sam and Henry seemed to be inexplicably connected. While his girlfriend and former patient Lila (Naomi Watts) looks haplessly on Sam’s lightly held grip on the rational world begins to melt away. He can no longer figure out what is true and what is happening only in his head--all climaxing in a titular confrontation between life and death. Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling would have loved this one. Although he was surprisingly good as the romantic lead in The Notebook the usually somber Gosling is best known for playing quiet psychotics in such films as The United States of Leland and Murder By Numbers. In Stay he’s back to his old tricks as the suicidal Henry. Pale with mournful eyes and a perpetual cigarette in his mouth Henry is certainly a tortured soul looking for some relief. On the flip side Watts brightens the otherwise dismal surroundings as Lila but there’s also a tinge of sadness about her. The only weak link is McGregor. He can’t quite pull off playing the dedicated psychiatrist slowly losing his mind--but the Scottish actor sure has mastered the American accent (ditto for the Australian Watts). Director Marc Forster (Monsters Ball Finding Neverland) seems a bit out of his league with this jumbled-up hard-to-understand psychological fare. Granted the visuals are arresting. Forster strives to create a world which at first seems real but then little by little turns into a wildly shifting dreamscape in which scenes blend into one another seamlessly. The real problem here is the script by David Benioff (25th Hour). It tries to say “Look how clever!” by throwing you for loop after loop--except the loops don’t make much sense. You eventually stop saying “What the hell?” and start to get a pretty good idea how Stay is going to end up. And when the final twist is handed down it’s surprisingly not all that disappointing.
SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg understands that to turn what is in essence a series of 10-minute segments into a 90-minute feature it's necessary to keep things very simple. With that he's envisioned a sort of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure for SpongeBob in which the hapless hero sets out on a quest to find the balding King Neptune's treasured crown. We all know it's been stolen by that tiny green megalomaniacal one-eyed sea creature known as Plankton--who sold it and has framed SpongeBob's boss Mr. Krab with the crime so he can be rid of him and rule the world--but the rest of Bikini Bottom doesn't including King Neptune who wants to turn Mr. Krab into an appetizer. Now even though he has just been passed over for the promotion of his dreams SpongeBob still believes his boss is innocent and convinces the king to spare Mr. Krab's life long enough to allow SpongeBob to go retrieve the crown. Along with his best pal Patrick SpongeBob embarks on the treacherous mission battling any number of obstacles in order to save Mr. Krab's life restore order in Bikini Bottom and prove once and for all he can be a real man…wait a grown up…er a big bad sponge? Yeah something like that.
The whole gang is here including standup comic Tom Kenny who provides the high nasal voice of SpongeBob; Bill Fagerbakke (TV's Coach) who voices the dopey but lovable Patrick; and the booming I'm-master-of-the-universe voice of Mr. Lawrence as the evil Plankton. There are also a few celebrity voices thrown in for good measure including Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor as the vain and insecure King Neptune; Scarlett Johansson as his kind and patient daughter Mindy (who looks a little like Velma from the Scooby-Doo series); and Alec Baldwin as a malevolent hit man. But the best cameo of all belongs to David Hasselhoff appearing as himself--in Baywatch mode of course. Hasselhoff helps SpongeBob and Patrick who find themselves in the "real" world get back to Bikini Bottom safely and looks like he's having a ball poking a little fun at himself--as well he should.
Hillenburg a former marine science teacher created SpongeBob after he decided he wanted to do a sea cartoon and thought a square sponge wearing shorts who lives in a pineapple house in a world of real sea animals was just the ticket. Sure we get why the kids love it. The cartoon is madcap slapsticky gross-out fun with SpongeBob and Patrick just big ol' kids themselves living in an undersea community where eating Krabby Patties showing your underwear and blowing bubbles are the bomb. It's the parents you gotta wonder about--the ones who say they are only watching it because their kids do but who secretly look forward to SpongeBob SquarePants episodes so they too can laugh their asses off. "It's about keeping your kid-nature in life and not totally becoming a curmudgeon " Hillenburg explains--but it's more than that. SpongeBob's humor is oftentimes aimed completely at the adults following the habits of some stellar predecessors such as the old Looney Tunes shorts and even more recently Ren and Stimpy. Examples: SpongeBob and Patrick laughing manically for five minutes longer than they should; the two of them getting totally blasted after eating too many ice cream sundaes and then waking up the next morning in a puddle of their own sick; and confused side glances at the camera from some scary-looking sea monsters who stop short from eating SpongeBob and Patrick after the two start singing about being real men er well you know what I mean. Funny funny stuff.
Top Story: Mum's the Word on Nicole and Lenny's Romance
Nicole Kidman plans on keeping her romance with rocker Lenny Kravitz private. In an interview appearing in W magazine's December issue, The Associated Press reports the Oscar-winning actress says she learned a few things from her very public marriage to actor Tom Cruise. "I don't think I will ever put myself up for scrutiny, in terms of a personal relationship, ever again," she says. "It's too delicate, too ephemeral, too painful when it fails. So to have it on display terrifies me." Although she admits to being depressed after her divorce from Cruise in August 2001, Kidman seems to have found love again with Kravitz. "The idea of being able to give somebody something again, that's a nice thing," she said. "Being able to give a part of yourself again is a nice thing."
Rosie Mag Admits Losses
In the breach of contract suit between Rosie O'Donnell and Gruner + Jahr USA, the publisher of her now-defunct magazine Rosie, G+J chief financial officer Lawrence Diamond admitted Monday that his company reported false circulation figures to hide the magazine's losses, AP reports. Diamond said fudging the numbers enabled the magazine Rosie to keep running. "We did not want to shut down," Diamond testified under questioning by Matthew Fishbein, an O'Donnell lawyer. If the magazine lost more than $4.2 million in a fiscal year, O'Donnell would have been permitted to end her arrangement with G+J, AP reports.
Morrison Sued for Concert Cancellation
Veteran rocker Van Morrison was ordered by a British court to pay damages to a western England hotel for canceling a concert there last August, Reuters reports. The court heard testimony that Crown Hotel owner Gary Marlow had turned down "substantial offers" by Morrison to settle the case out of court but to no avail.
New Line Sets Up Rings Essay Contest
New Line Cinema will be generating a Lord of the Rings creative writing contest to a select group of high schools and middle schools in Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York in anticipation of the Dec. 17 release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The contest asks children to write a 200-word essay on the theme of the wizard Gandalf's quote: "All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you." The deadline for submitting an essay is Friday, with New Line selecting one winner out of each group in December. Four grand-prize winners will receive promotional items from the film, along with a private screening for the student's friends and family, and the prizes for all schools that participate include a $10,000 grant per city applied to the purchase of new books for the school library, as well as a complete set of The Lord of the Rings book series donated by publisher Houghton Mifflin.
Danza Tries Hand at Daytime TV
Who's the Boss? star Tony Danza and Buena Vista Television are developing a new talk show for Danza to host that is aimed at female audiences, Reuters reports. The program does not yet have an airdate or a title, but according to Reuters, Buena Vista said it would sell the show in the syndication market.
Singer Donates Serious Cash to University
Singer Ray Charles has donated $1 million to Dillard University in New Orleans, La., so the school can create a black culture program, AP reports. The donation will create an endowed faculty position and program devoted to the musical, culinary, artistic and linguistic contributions of black Americans, Dillard spokeswoman Maureen Larkins told AP. The 73-year-old singer received an honorary degree in May from Dillard, a private, predominantly black school associated with the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.
Williams Bids Adieu to CNBC
Brian Williams is leaving his anchor position at CNBC in January, Reuters reports, and will take over from Tom Brokaw at NBC Nightly News after the 2004 presidential election. In the down time between jobs, Williams is expected to contribute as a reporter for NBC, as well as fill in for Brokaw when necessary. "We are heading into an incredibly busy news cycle in 2004 with the primary season, the conventions, the Olympics and the elections," NBC News president Neal Shapiro said in a statement. "With the transition at Nightly on the horizon, it's more important than ever that Brian is able to turn his full attention to the network for the coverage of these stories."
Spike TV To Host Video Game Awards
Spike TV will play host to the inaugural Video Game Awards show in Las Vegas next month, hosted by actor-comedian David Spade, AP reports. "The VGAs celebrate those games that have blistered our fingers poised on the joystick and kept us up all night," Albie Hecht, president of Spike TV, said in a statement Monday. "We're throwing out all the boring and stagnant elements of traditional awards shows and focusing on what matters--the characters, game play, animation, music and performances that have made an impact on the video game community throughout the past year." The show will premiere on the "first network for men" on Dec. 4. Gaming industry experts, public opinion via Spike TV's Web site and the network's editorial board will determine the winners, AP reports.
Zak Gibbs (Jesse Bradford) finds what looks like a wristwatch while scavenging through a box of his father's junk. What he doesn't know is that the watch is actually a device that makes its wearer move so quickly that the rest of the world appears to be moving in slow motion. The device was sent to his father (Robin Thomas) a science professor and dilettante inventor by a former student (French Stewart) who is being held captive by an evil corporation. Now the evildoers want their watch back and kidnap the professor while Zak unaware that his father is in grave danger runs around town with a cutie pie exchange student (Paula Garces) freezing time. Of course the two teens eventually join forces and save the day. Not only is the film's plot is so unbelievably implausible the characters are ridiculously typecast. The most insulting is Zak's black friend Meeker (Garikayi Mutambirwa) who dreams of winning a DJ competition. Eager to help him win Zak and his gal pal go into hypertime and make like puppeteers moving Meeker's arms and legs so that in real time it appears as though he's a good dancer.
Jesse Bradford (Bring It On) is the most redeemable thing in this film. His character Zak is a conventional teen who is smart but not brilliant and clever without being a hero. But unfortunately Bradford is stuck in this mess of a movie acting alongside the pretty but frothy Paula Garces. Like most girls in the movies nowadays her character Francesca de la Cruz is a vixen that cleverly puts guys in their places and can single-handedly beat up a villain. French Stewart is Dr. Earl Dopler the watch's creator. Although his brainy character is the opposite of his airheaded Harry on Third Rock From the Sun Stewart seems like he is the same persona simply reading a different script. Robin Thomas (The Contender) and Julia Sweeney (Whatever It Takes) play Zak's parents. Both are pretty standard fare: Thomas the parent married to his work at the expense of his relationship with Zak while Sweeney is a regular June Cleaver type.
Why Jonathan Frakes better known as Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation or anyone for that matter would put their names on this project is unfathomable. From the hideously flashy and noisy opening credits to the predictable denouement Clockstoppers is about as entertaining as nails scraping against a chalkboard. The ridiculous story accompanied by flimsy special effects was penned by too many writers to mention. This may explain the massive plot inconsistencies--are they not supposed to count because this film is aimed at younger viewers? At one point Zak comes to the realization that for others to come in and out of hypertime they must be touching him. But there are several instances throughout the film that clearly contradict this. The watch also makes its users age rapidly but seems to spare Zak his friends and the evildoers of this fate. And is there no gravity in hypertime? Zak and Francesca were able to toss Meeker around the stage like he was weightless. And is Meeker a typical cheery Jamaican caricature with thick dreadlocks in the film for no other reason than to offend? His character disappears halfway through the film after being redeemed by his white rescuers.