Reese Witherspoon made plenty of headlines this year, but it definitely wasn't for any outstanding performances...at least not the kind that will get you an Oscar. None of us will forget watching her catch a DUI case with her hubby and acting a total fool with the police officers. But the good news is that America's [former?] Sweetheart has a couple of projects lined up that we're legitimately excited about.
Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail was a huge deal when it came out last year. Strayed reportedly reached out to Witherspoon personally, and the actress will both star in and produce the film. Not all fans of the memoir are on board with the idea of pretty-girl Witherspoon taking on the gritty role of a divorced woman, grieving her mother's death, recovering from drug abuse, and hiking 1,100 miles in the wild. However, we think it would be pretty exciting to watch the actress make such an intense transformation, and bring this powerful story to life.
Another project teams the Southern belle with French-Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, who made a name for himself with his brilliant, Oscar-nominated film Monsieur Lazhar. But the director has been around for some time, Congorama and It's Not Me, I Swear! being other films of note. He'll soon be crossing over with his first English-language production, and Witherspoon is set to star in the lead role. Based on true events, the story follows a Sudanese refugee who is taken in by a brash American woman (Witherspoon's character). This could be another big film from the director and Witherspoon will certainly get exposed to his particular style of directing; not a lot of bad there.
As if all this wasn't enough, the actress has three other films in the works (including a romantic comedy titled The Beard, according to The Hollywood Reporter), and she's even producing David Fincher's highly-anticipated adaptation Gone Girl. Yes, folks. It's officially time to start paying attention to Reese Witherspoon again.
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Built from comic book auteur Frank Miller’s (Sin City) rock solid foundations 300 is based on his vision on the 1962 film The 300 Spartans filtered through the same tough-as-nails pulp sensibility that populates most of his comics work. Leaving such leaden wannabe sword-and-sandal epics like Troy and Alexander in the historical dust 300 reworks the real-life legendary tale of the Battle of Thermopylae in which a battalion of 300 elite Spartan soldiers heroically hold the line to protect ancient Greece from the invading Persian hordes. The story focuses on the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who must not only lead his small cadre of troops--each one honored since childhood into a razor-sharp battle-relishing warrior—into a battle they are unlikely to survive but he must also fight for the fate of Greece and its democratic ideals. As the bizarre seemingly endless marauding legions of the tyrant Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) descend upon the Hot Gates—a narrow passageway into Greece that Leonidas’ miniscule band can most ably defend—the soldiers take up arms without the usual post-modern anti-war hand-wringing that most war epics indulge in. These soldiers are both bred for battle and fighting a good fight and the film focuses squarely on the highly charged action. Meanwhile in a new plotline created specifically for the movie his equally noble and faithful queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) takes up arms in a more symbolic way as she also tries to keep democracy alive by taking on the political warlords of Sparta to secure relief for her husband’s troops. Butler has become a familiar and welcome on-screen presence in such films as The Phantom of the Opera and Reign of Fire but there has been little on his mainstream movie resume to suggest the kind of bravura fire he brings to the role of Leonidas. This is the stuff of an actor announcing himself to the audience in a major way akin to Daniel Craig’s star-making turn as James Bond. In a big bold performance that could have gone awry in any number of ways Butler plays even the highest pitched notes like a concerto perfectly capturing the king’s bravado bombast cunning compassion and passion each step of the way. Headey is his ideal match imbuing the queen with more steel and nobility in a handful of scenes than most actresses can summon to carry entire films. Fans of Lost and Brazilian cinema will be hard-pressed to even recognize Santoro whose earnest pretty handsomeness is radically transformed into Xerxes’ exotic borderline freakish form personifying a terrifying yet seductive force of corruption and evil that spreads like a cancer across the earth. And don’t forget to add in the most impressive array of rock-hard abs on cinematic display since well ever (think Brad Pitt in Troy times 300). Even bolstered by canny casting choices and their washboard stomachs helmer Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) is the true undisputable star of 300 establishing himself firmly as a director whose work demands to be watched. With a kinetic sensibility that’s akin to Quentin Tarantino and John Woo and using CGI technology to its utmost effects both subtle and dynamic Snyder creates a compelling fully formed world that the audience is eager to explore. Snyder doesn’t literally match Miller’s signature artwork as meticulously as director Robert Rodriguez did with Sin City. Instead Snyder captures Miller’s essence be it raw brutality majestic size and scope the exotic and otherworldly carnal physicality or hideous deformity--even seemingly antiquated and potentially off-putting techniques like the repeated use of slow-motion are put to fresh effect making every blow and cut seem crucial. Yet even in the visual glorification of some of the most bloody and violent conflicts ever put to film Snyder infuses the tale—which ultimately is one big glorious testosterone-soaked fight sequence—with the sense of honor and sacrifice which characterizes the most noble of war efforts. Yes war can be hell but this is a case where some like it hot.
National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj shares something in common with another recent equally unnecessary sequel Big Momma's House 2: Its title is an absolute misnomer since Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is nowhere to be seen in his own sequel--just like Big Momma’s house in its sequel. Ah but the title of the latest National Lampoon installment is still the movie’s most intelligible facet. Taj Mahal Badalandabad (Kal Penn) has moved on from being Van’s beleaguered bumbling assistant and is now off to England’s prestigious Camford University to continue his education. He arrives on campus thinking he’s been accepted to an elite fraternity only to be derisively turned down by uptight and arrogant Pipp (Daniel Percival). He’s relegated to “The Barn ” the campus loser dwelling and vows to turn its misfits into winners so he can not only get back at Pipp but also to steal his girlfriend Charlotte (Lauren Cohan). Despite his best efforts to prove otherwise Kal Penn is a talented actor’s actor. He has sold his soul for a few million bucks and to stoner frat-dude fans thanks to the Van Wilder movies and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and its planned 2008 sequel but he has a true thespian’s pedigree. His future is rich with bigger and better roles (especially March’s The Namesake his first dramatic lead). His talent is visible and audible in Taj but so at times is his empty soul like when you can occasionally hear the nuances in his faux-Indian accent. Penn still remains the only reason to watch the movie aside from occasional breast flashes (courtesy of a curvaceous Holly Davidson Sadie Frost’s sister) and he should keep the predominantly immature contingency satisfied. The incredibly beautiful Cohan who had a small part in Casanova shows some promise not to mention far too much class for this movie. But sometimes a National Lampoon movie is the best vehicle for a beautiful young actress to break through into the mainstream. Where to begin on a movie’s flaws that are so vast they’re like grains of sand on a beach. Mercy is reserved for directors who actually try for something different but wind up failing miserably; then there’s Taj’s Mort Nathan who literally tries to be the same (as college comedies of years past)--but winds up failing miserably. Nathan’s only other movie the Cuba Gooding career-ender Boat Trip will follow him around wherever he may descend but his latest offering just barely tops that one. The hopefully ashamed writer freshman David Drew Gallagher is also in need of a serious hazing after this effort. He steals the playbook from movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Old School but truly cannot manage a single genuine laugh. The director and writer together though are a veritable calamity and the movie’s lone joke. Their combined work is uneven unlike ever before--even for a movie that needn’t worry about production blunders because of its fan base. Every time there is an almost maudlin moment of tenderness the duo further hammer the nail in their coffin--that is until Nathan’s next National Lampoon movie (2008’s Bag Boy).