A fictional fever-dream mystery crafted loosely from the notorious still-unsolved 1947 murder of wayward wannabe starlet Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) the tale teams two rising L.A. police detectives whose bone-crunching boxing bout give them political juice—Mr. Ice cool young Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Mr. Fire hotheaded veteran Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). Both men become embroiled in and obsessed with the sick horrific crime even as Dwight falls hard for Lee’s victimized world-weary live-in love Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson)—with Lee’s unspoken approval: he’s too busy spiraling downward into a psychotic fixation with solving the murder having previously lost his sister to foul play. But Dwight’s also led astray by the more carnal temptations of voracious Madeline Sprague (Hilary Swank) the daughter of a bizarre high-society family with her own shadowy connections to the Dahlia. Sordid subplots abound simmering and swirling as in death the Black Dahlia threatens to suck everyone into an ever-widening abyss. Not entirely an epic of miscasting the film nevertheless falls short finding performers to essay Ellroy’s compelling cast: Hartnett demonstrates more depth here than in most previous efforts but comes fathoms short of the necessary mix of drive and angst to suit the complex role. Although she physically conveys a maturity beyond her years Johansson shows none of the wounded wisdom of the novel’s Kay—her seductive ethereal air would with an ebony dye job have served her far better as the Dahlia herself a cipher who becomes in the eyes of those obsessed with her whatever they dream her to be. Conversely Kirshner delivers in that elusive spectral role but the been-around-the-block-one-too-many times faded glint in her eyes would have made her a much more involving Kay. Eckhart has the spit and polish of a political-minded cop down pat but lacks the self-destructive inner fire that fuels the façade. Swank is mostly delightful by degrees—many of her choices are intriguing occasionally outrageous and give her femme fatale needed dimensions but others are overindulged. There are certainly macabre grand guignol moments in the story that make it more akin to Sunset Boulevard than its more obvious comparison Ellroy’s own L.A. Confidential but De Palma—never known for his subtlety—handles them with such an overt determined campiness any wry irony is wrung from them. The result is more of a parody—indeed an unflattering caricature—than a modern commentary on classic noir style. Add in his ceaseless camera-swooping swipes from Hitchcock and his ongoing fixation with meaningless gore—ham-fisted homages and hemorrhaging hemoglobin to ape Ellroy’s alliterative gossip-rag riffs—that distract from the intensity of the source material and all that remains is a bloody shame.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.
In this film based on the Newbery Award-winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) is a lonely 10-year-old girl who has moved to a sluggish small town in Florida with her preacher father (Jeff Daniels). She has a tough time getting through to her dad: when he is not preaching the gospel he walks around in a haze haunted by the departure of Opal's mother many years before. But when Opal adopts Winn-Dixie named after the supermarket where she found the mutt things start to brighten up for the little girl. With her special companion by her side Opal ends up meeting some pretty interesting people in the town. They include Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint) the local spinster librarian who spins great stories; Otis (Dave Matthews) the shy drifter working at Gertrude's Pet Shop; and Gloria (Cicely Tyson) an old blind lady living with ghosts from her past. Through Opal's sunny disposition and Winn-Dixie doggone tenaciousness they help the town find their joy and their sorrow. And at the same time they mend Opal's troubled relationship with her father. Collectively now awwww!
All the players fit snugly in this warmhearted movie especially the talented young Robb who makes her feature film debut in Winn-Dixie. It's imperative to cast an adorable child and Robb doesn't disappoint keeping things genuinely fresh with the big eyes infectious smile and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm charm. Daniels too doesn't overplay it as the wounded preacher--aptly described by Opal as a turtle--who rarely sticks his head out of his shell. Veterans Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson do what they can with their stereotypical parts as the kindly spinster storyteller and kindly old wise woman respectively. But it's singer-turned-actor Dave Matthews who stands out as the drifter with a troubled past but can "sing most anything " even charming the animals in the pet shop á la the Pied Piper. His poignant performance is up there in the sentiment department.
Here we go with the children and the animals again. Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan The Joy Luck Club) is the latest director to take a stab at guiding those most unpredictable of actors. As he explains "Sometimes the going is slow. But then suddenly something magical happens that you couldn't possibly have planned or anticipated." It's true. There are definite moments of inspired sweetness especially between Opal and Winn-Dixie played by a Picardy Shepherd a rare breed of dog from France that has the look of a big old lovable mutt. And of course you can't go too wrong using heart-tugging material based on a beloved children's novel on par with Where the Red Fern Grows and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. That's also Because of Winn-Dixie main problem. Fans of the book will certainly love the film but overall it doesn't really offer anything new in this genre. It's the same general premise about the kid and a dog--or a horse a deer whichever animal works best--who can change the lives of those around them just from being pure of heart. Maybe it's the curmudgeon in me but Winn-Dixie just doesn't stand out among the plethora of films similar to it.
Top Story: Duff and Disney Part Ways
'Tween girls everywhere are going to be bummed. Hilary Duff, star of the Disney Channel's hit show Lizzie McGuire and the recent movie of the same name, has decided to take her leave from the company that helped launch her career. A spokeswoman for the Walt Disney Co. told Reuters the studio and the 15-year-old actress were "going their separate ways," after contract negotiations between Disney and Duff's representatives broke down. Reports say Duff was asking for $5 million for a Lizzie McGuire sequel and $100,000 per episode of the show. "We gave them a very generous offer and unfortunately they passed. Hilary is a great girl and we truly wish her the best of luck," the spokeswoman said. A Disney Channel spokesman told Reuters there were no plans to produce new episodes of the Lizzie McGuire show, but said the cable network plans to continue broadcasting the program.
Minnelli Show Must Go On
Liza Minnelli broke her right kneecap in a fall in Italy Sunday but continued her plans to sing in a charity concert for Iraqi refugees, doing a duet with opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti Monday. "She will leave hospital [Monday] evening to sing 'New York, New York' in a duet with Pavarotti. After the concert, she will return to hospital to undergo a knee operation," Pavarotti's spokeswoman told Reuters. The "Pavarotti and Friends Annual Charity Show" in Modena, northern Italy, aims to raise money to help Iraqi refugees return home after the war.
Simpsons' Groening Named Best Cartoonist
Matt Groening, the mad genius behind The Simpsons, was awarded the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year at the 2003 Reuben Awards, The Associated Press reports. The 57th annual award ceremony was held Saturday at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, with presenters and past Reuben winners such as "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams, "Doonesbury" creator Gary Trudeau, and Cathy Guisewite, creator of "Cathy," AP reports.
Gay Reality Show Gets a Shot
Cable network Bravo, owned by NBC, will air the first primetime gay-themed reality dating series called Boy Meets Boy. As usual, an eligible bachelor will choose among 15 potential mates--the twist is some of the men are actually heterosexual who have been paid to pretend to be gay. "I think this will be truly groundbreaking television," series executive producer and co-creator Douglas Ross told The Hollywood Reporter. "Several of the straight men have very intense experiences," he said, declining to divulge specific behavior. "We anticipate a lot of both gay and straight viewers will have their assumptions challenged about what it means to be gay and what it means to be straight."
Mighty Wind Singers Give Free Concert
They enjoyed it so much on-screen they decided to do it for real. The cast of the mockumentary A Mighty Wind, which follows three sets of folk singing icons as they come together for a memorial concert, gave their own free concert at the Getty Center museum in Los Angeles Friday, AP reports. Performing were Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean as the Folksmen; Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as Mitch & Mickey; and John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey as young members of the nine-person New Main Street Singers.
Once-Blacklisted Actress Gets Star
Betty Garrett, best known for her role as Edna Babish on the TV sitcom Laverne & Shirley, got her own Hollywood Walk of Fame star Friday. Garrett, 84, and her late husband, Larry Parks, were both briefly blacklisted in the early 1950s during the McCarthy era.
Role Call: Curtis Hanson Turns Crimson, Old School's Boys Go Back to Class, Miramax Lands Barbarian
Director Curtis Hanson (8 Mile) is in final negotiations to direct The Crimson Petal and the White. Based on Michael Farber's Victorian novel, the story focuses on a 19-year-old prostitute living in 1860s London who becomes the secret mistress to a member of a powerful London family…meanwhile, the trio of funny guys--Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn--who made Old School a hit will likely return to make the sequel, currently in development, Variety reports…and also in Variety news, Miramax picked up the distribution rights to director Denys Arcand's French-Canadian film The Barbarian Invasions, which recently won awards at the Cannes Film Festival for best screenplay and best actress (Marie-Josee Croze). The story follows an estranged son who reunites with his divorced parents when his father faces a life-threatening illness.