Sandler is arguably one of the smartest movie moguls in Hollywood. As a writer/star/producer he knows exactly who his audience is and gives them exactly what they want and expect--for better or worse. In this case it’s slightly better than most. He is Zohan a super-skilled super-buff--and many times super-naked--Israeli Mossad agent who can stop the bad guys with one swift kick and woo the ladies with his amazing butt muscles. But he’s tired of fighting and secretly wants to be a hair stylist so he fakes his death and heads to New York under the alias “Scrappy Coco” to live out his dream. Of course his past catches up with him especially after he gets a job at a salon run by the beautiful Dalia (Emmanuelle Chriqui) who also happens to be Palestinian. No matter he is soon a huge success with the older lady clientele for his er unique sensual hairstyling techniques if you get my meaning. But Zohan’s past eventually catches up to him just as he realizes he can’t make the “bang boom” with anyone else but Dalia. Adam Sandler can just add Zohan to his repertoire. Actually it’s been awhile since we’ve seen Sandler play someone this over-the-top--and it’s kind of refreshing. The actor obviously had to really work out to get the Zohan physique and he puts himself out there quite literally in more ways than one. (Disco dancing while barbequing fish in the nude is gutsy!) Sandler also enlists the help of some of his cronies particularly Rob Schneider who plays a Palestinian cab driver of all things. Nah that shouldn’t piss off anyone. Chriqui from HBO’s Entourage is very cute and a worthy love interest but it’s really all the older ladies who get the true benefits of Zohan’s mojo including Lainie Kazan playing the mother of one of Zohan’s friends. And then there’s John Turturro who sheds all seriousness as a known terrorist and Zohan’s nemesis The Phantom. I guess after he did Transformers Turturro figures he can keep up the silly antics. Sandler also teams up once again with his old director pal Dennis Dugan--the same guy who has guided Sandler in his hit comedies Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore. Obviously it’s a synergy that works but Dugan usually doesn’t have to do much more than point the camera. With Zohan however Dugan has to incorporate some special effects (Zohan flying through the air for example) as well as some action stunts. It looks like they had more fun this time around. But of course with any Sandler movie it’s all about the comedy so Sandler doesn’t hedge any bets collaborating with another old friend and SNL alum Robert Smigel along with the master of comedy these days Judd Apatow. Zohan has many signature Sandler moments and true-blue fans should be pleased. If you’re not a fan however you might still enjoy some of it--even if you roll your eyes.
Based on Ian McEwan’s equally stirring novel we begin the story in 1935 on the cusp of WWII. Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) a 13-year-old fledgling writer lives with her wealthy family in their enormous English country mansion and on one hot summer day she irrevocably changes the course of three lives including her own. It seems the housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) carries a torch for Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley). And on this warm day it becomes clear she feels the same way; their love ignites. Little Briony who harbors her own secret crush on Robbie witnesses the beginnings of this love affair and not understanding its meaning feels compelled to interfere going so far as accusing Robbie of a crime he did not commit. He is arrested and whisked away eventually forced into the British army but thankfully the two lovers have a moment before he goes to war to reconnect. Cecilia promises to wait for him urging him to “come back” to her once the madness he is about to become immersed in is over. Meanwhile Briony (played in adult years by Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave) has grown up regretting every single moment of that fateful day and in desperately trying to seek forgiveness finally finds a path to understanding the power of enduring love. The performances in Atonement are nothing less than captivating beginning with the young Irish rose Saoirse Ronan (who is also set to play the lead in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones). Since it is primarily Briony’s story Ronan must make the first most indelible impression and set the tone for the rest of the movie--and she succeeds on every level. From the moment you see Ronan’s pale face clear-blue eyes and steadfast gait you immediately recognize Briony’s need and determination to make everything in her life just so. Indeed Briony is a strongly focused child and Ronan so embodies the character an Oscar nomination is almost a certainty. As the 18-year-old Briony Garai (Dirty Dancing 2) does the best she can following such a tough act as Ronan but can never quite match the same intensity. On the other hand Redgrave who comes in at the very end as the much older Briony nails it right away adding her own nuances to a character who has lived a full life. Of course Knightley and McAvoy are no slouches either vividly capturing the passion bubbling up between Cecilia and Robbie then turning around and showing the heartache as their love is ripped apart. McAvoy is particularly effecting as his Robbie must also witness some truly horrific wartime scenes. Actually Oscar nods should come fast and furious for everyone in Atonement. With Pride & Prejudice and now Atonement director Joe Wright may have just established himself as the new James Ivory (of Merchant/Ivory fame). Wright is a real visionary for the romantic period piece expertly delivering truly spectacular vistas. From set design to costumes to cinematography the look of Atonement is at once verdant welcoming and then startlingly grim. The first half of Atonement at the Tallis’ country home is certainly the film’s most defining peppered by an effective musical score which uses the sound of a typewriter like a metronome. Through a soft lens Wright displays the general idleness of summer day at a country home like a sunny floral motif that belies an undercurrent of sweating bodies wilting flowers stagnant pools--and an imminent tragic event. Then once Wright moves with Robbie into WWII he actually paints an even more grim view of war then maybe seen before. The one continuous shot of the historical Dunkirk--a French beach on which thousands of British soldiers were forced by the Germans and then waited to be evacuated--is absolutely stunning and surreal. Atonement does drag ever-so-slightly in the middle especially as Briony trains to be a nurse in London but overall this is a film Academy voters eat up with a silver spoon. Expect to be hearing about it in the months to come.
Loosely based on the (rather lame) 1960 Rat Pack film dashing understated-but-cool thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) orchestrates the most sophisticated elaborate casino heist in history less than 24 hours after being released from jail. In one night Danny's handpicked 11-man crew of specialists--including an ace card sharp (Brad Pitt) a young-but-masterful pickpocket (Matt Damon) and a demolition genius (Don Cheadle)--will attempt to steal over $150 million from three Las Vegas casinos owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) the elegant ruthless entrepreneur who just happens to be dating Danny's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). To score the cash Danny will have to risk his life and risk his chance of ever reconciling with Tess. But if all goes according to his intricate nearly impossible plan Danny won't have to choose between his stake in the heist and his high-stakes reunion with Tess. Or will he?
The star wattage in this movie could solve all of California's electricity problems in one fell swoop. George Clooney easily passes himself off as suave mastermind Danny Ocean playing the role with understated class and elegance. Brad Pitt takes a similar arc as Rusty though he's slightly more dispassionate and professional than Clooney's visionary Ocean. Matt Damon is convincing as the inexperienced-but-talented pickpocket who's essential to getting in the vault. And Julia is simply Julia--glamorous and charming a smart cookie who is being wooed by the evil ruthless (and anal-retentive) casino mogul so elegantly portrayed by Andy Garcia. Affecting a Cockney accent and attitude Don Cheadle's portrayal of the demolition expert is a tour de force. Carl Reiner is absolutely hilarious as Saul Bloom an aging old-timer who comes out of retirement to infiltrate the casino as a debonair arms dealer. Elliott Gould Bernie Mac Scott Caan and Casey Affleck round out the cast nicely with inspired performances especially Gould's and Mac's.
Soderbergh cemented his reputation last year as a director of serious weight when both Traffic and Erin Brockovich were nominated for the Best Film Academy Award and garnered him two Best Director nominations---an unprecedented feat. Ocean's Eleven marks Soderbergh's departure from the serious to the seriously fun. This is one of the most stylish most elegantly filmed movies I have ever seen. Not only are all the actors beautiful but so are the locations clothes and shot selections. The speed and pacing of the flick belie the movie's length; Soderbergh clearly had fun making this movie. He shot this film very intimately often allowing the camera to stay close on the actors a tad longer than expected which lets their personas shine through--thus their personalities draw you into the movie as much as the caper itself. It's not often you see a movie where the direction has as much wit and cleverness as the plot itself. Ocean's Eleven makes no pretense to be something other than a jaunty cheeky exhilarating heist movie. So while the plot's not too deep all is forgiven considering the level of acting and direction.
CANNES, May 15, 2000 -- There are two sides (at least) to everything, right? For example, at the exact same time you want to keep dancing at the tres late rooftop party, you also want to fall asleep for the next 18 hours. At the same time you want to do yoga, you long for a warm chocolate crepe. Marlon Wayans wants to be here to celebrate his role in Darren Aronofsky's (his post-"Pi" flick) new movie, "Requiem for a Dream" at the same time he has to be in Los Angeles for the birth of his new baby. But that's the Cannes Film Festival. The French keep the eternal paradox alive and well.
Other festival tidbits:
-- "A wise man once said everyone would be famous for 15 minutes..." mumbles a voice as Griffin Dunne's new movie, "Famous" starts. Okay, so we all know about that 15 minutes thing, but what co-writing co-stars Laura Kirk and Nat DeWolf and Griffin, who plays a documentarian, want to know is, what happens the five minutes before that fabulous quarter hour.
Mira Sorvino This dead-on hilarious and painful story (the two go together don't they?) follows Lisa Picard, a 29-year-old struggling actress in New York City. Adding to the fun in this terrific comedy is a mix of uncredited celeb cameos (Carrie Fisher, Spike Lee, Penelope Ann Miller, Charlie Sheen, Melissa Gilbert and Sandra Bullock). "Famous" also marks Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino's producing debut.
-- Once you have your 15 minutes of fame you can always book a room and swim in the famous azure pool built into the cliff that flows into the sea. But they only take cash, which is a slight problem this year since the French franc suppliers are on strike and most of the ATM's are dry as a bone.
-- Two films by cinematic royalty, presented Sunday night with glittering fanfare -- "The Golden Bowl," a costume drama presented by Merchant Ivory and featuring Nick Nolte, Uma Thurman and Angelica Houston; and, "Faithless" written by Ingmar Bergman and directed by Liv Ullmann. Both films were more pewter than gold. To be more specific (and OK, meaner) in "The Leaden Bowl" not only do you already know what's going to happen, nobody gets around to doing it for over two hours. And as for Liv Ullmann, she tells us everything and then proceeds to show us everything, twice managing to skip the good parts.
-- Sunday was no day of rest here. It's one thing to enjoy the spectacle of our most popular stars floating up those traditional red steps but it's quite another to turn a corner in the busy corridors of the Carlton Hotel and run into the very friendly and sweet Chris Rock along with that girl-next-door Renee Zellweger and their talented director Neil LaBute. Even here, stars "take meetings." Their movie, "Nurse Betty" has a great shot at actually winning the Palme d'Or (although merit never guarantees victory, don't we know?)
-- Let's face it. The French and their famous Cannes Film Festival have "Un Certain Reputation" for major style and just as major attitude. This means, no matter what's planned, you never really know what's going to happen next which is definitely part of the fun and excitement. But only the French could have a quiet security alert (read: bomb threat) in just a small part of the Palais (yes, it's one huge building complex) as the totally unaware paparazzi continue to bellow as the fans howl into the night. It happened here on Saturday. Happily not a sequin was disturbed and everything was okay.
-- It's just these kind of eccentric idiosyncrasies that artists and brothers, Ethan and Joel Coen revel in. Their latest film, "O Brother, Where Art Though?" stars the usual suspects, John Turturro, Holly Hunter and John Goodman with the classy addition of George Clooney. This twisted and funny (but, of course) jailbreak story is in the competition. We'll see if the Coens shake the Golden Palm one more time. (In 1991, they won the award for "Barton Fink.")
Hopefully this will be a festival where there are no bombs of any kind. (Yeah, right.)