Set in 1976 an arrogant doofus--who loves booze partying and women--buys an underdog professional basketball team and basically runs it into the ground until he is inspired to take his rag-tag team all the way to the NBA. Sound familiar? Semi-Pro is pretty much a mixture of every other Will Ferrell movie. He plays Jackie Moon a one-hit wonder who buys the Flint Michigan Tropics off the proceeds of his hit song “Love Me Sexy.” and tries to coach them even playing on the team. But he ends up dragging them down to last place with his promotional antics. And when the wild and crazy ABA basketball league--known for its slam dunk contests--is about to merge with the all-powerful NBA the Tropics only have one shot to make the cut. Can they pull themselves together in time? This is an underdog sports movie after all. It’s really the same old Will Ferrell shtick in Semi-Pro. Sometimes it’s hilarious but unfortunately after Anchorman Kicking & Screaming Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory much of it is rehash. Tiresome rehash. Nevertheless Ferrell has surrounded himself with another eclectic crew mixing some old favorites with new faces: old Ferrell cronies include David Koechner as the ABA commissioner and Will Arnett as a Tropics sports announcer while the newbies include Andre Benjamin as Clarence “Coffee” Black the Tropics star player and Woody Harrelson as Ed Monix a veteran player Moon brings in to help the team. Think of Monix as Bull Durham’s Crash Davis who once played in the show but has been demoted to the B leagues. Oddly enough Harrelson actually brings some dignity to the otherwise silly proceedings. Veteran executive producer Kent Alterman who has overseen such diverse films as Balls of Fury and Little Children helms his first feature film with Semi-Pro--and that’s basically how the film comes off: semi-professional. Alterman probably figured he only had to point and shoot which is mostly the case and doesn’t do anything above and beyond. The real effort comes from the script written by comedy veteran Scot Armstrong (Old School Starsky & Hutch). The first half of the film is pure Will Ferrell non sequitur fodder--beginning with Moon singing his hit “Love Me Sexy” (lyrics also included is “Lick Me Sexy” and “Hump Me Sexy”) and the obligatory scene of Moon sitting around with his buddies saying “nutty things because they’re not true.” Then there’s the bear wrestling scene. Ferrell must have a thing for the big furry animals (remember the bear pit in Anchorman?) Unfortunately the outrageousness lessens in the second half of the film becoming your straight forward underdog movie. If Semi-Pro is a huge hit Ferrell won't stop making these movies; but if it falls flat maybe he'll think of ways to reinvent himself. One can only hope.
Did you know there are scientifically documented cases of very young children who had spontaneous memories of things and people and places they could never possibly have known about? Apparently The Return’s screenwriter Adam Sussman discovered this phenomenon and created the character Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) a young woman who since she was 11-years-old has been having disjointed flashbacks of some horrible attack she never experienced herself. She flashes regularly on a dank bar paintings of seahorses and ends up hiding from a man who calls her "Sunshine.” And who knew hearing Patsy Cline on your radio would spell supernatural trouble? The best part is when Joanna has one of these episodes she ends up cutting herself. Needless to say the girl’s a tad screwed up. Eventually Joanna finds herself inexplicably drawn to La Salle Texas where she finally starts to piece together the murder mystery that has been plaguing her for so long. Thank god! Someone just needs to hand Sarah Michelle Gellar a Coke and a smile. Forget about being a scream queen Gellar has become the queen of depression with the two Grudges and now The Return under her belt. She has actually made an art form of sad teary-eyed stares in the mirror sinking onto a bed with head in hand and general malaise. She also plays scared pretty well but deep down you know at any moment Gellar can get all Buffy the Vampire Slayer on whoever is threatening her especially as the tough Joanna. But the actress has to be getting tired of all this despair so let’s hope she decides to move on. The other Return cast members really aren’t worth mentioning except for a brief appearance by Sam Shepherd as Joanna’s dad. One can only imagine he did this for some extra cash. The Return is one of those cases in which the trailer makes the movie look a hell of a lot scarier than it really is which is probably why the studio didn’t pre-screen it for critics. It’s a marketing ploy of course pitching a thriller with an established horror actress attached--except this time they are messing with their built-in audience. Reminiscent of the truly creepy What Lies Beneath The Return may have a few jumps and bumps here and there but as a ghost story there isn’t any oomph. Maybe it has something to do with the ultra-depressive main character who isn’t nearly developed enough. We aren’t invested in what happens to Joanna or the woman periodically possessing her so she can solve her murder. The Return doesn’t measure up to its expectations lulling us instead of thrilling us.
Set in the 1970s male-dominated news world the dashing mustached Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is indeed a legend as San Diego's top-rated anchorman. He and his news team--including field reporter and all-around ladies man Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) sports cowboy Champ Kind (David Koechner) and mindless weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell)--live life large as local television icons boozing and womanizing with the best of them. As Ron puts it they have been coming to the "same party for 12 years--and in no way is that depressing." But their world is about to turn upside down when an ambitious newswoman Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is hired by the managing news producer (Fred Willard) to spice things up. The guys aren't worried at first treating her like any other woman that is to say sexually harassing her--and despite that Veronica and Ron hit it off. But soon Ms. Corningstone's true agenda is revealed--she wants to land an anchor spot and she isn't about the let anything stand in her way including a perfectly coiffed slightly hairy idiot newsman named Ron Burgundy. Of course this means war.
No longer is Ferrell just a side character illuminating the proceedings with his hilarity. Along with pals Jack Black Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller (who make strategic cameos in Anchorman--but we aren't telling how 'cause that'll ruin the fun) the former Saturday Night Live alum has become one of the new kings of cinematic comedy. People expect Ferrell to be gut-bustin' funny now and luckily he delivers once again as Ron Burgundy. With a voice that "could make a wolverine purr " Burgundy is all hot air great hair and polyester debonair a dim bulb who tries to understand the news stories he recites but gives up quickly because it requires too much thought and simply reads the teleprompter exactly as it is written. Ferrell is at his best when he is allowed to free-associate either by himself (while getting ready to go on the air) or with his co-stars Rudd Koechner and Carell (singing a strangely harmonious rendition of "Afternoon Delight"). Keep your eyes on Carell--he is a comic gem on the rise. The Daily Show co-star had a brief but memorable turn in last year's Bruce Almighty as an anchorman (ironic huh?) Jim Carrey messes with but in Anchorman Carell is absolutely side-splitting as Brick who doesn't have a single brain cell working rattling off non sequiturs like "I ate an entire red candle " when talking about a party the night before. Christina Applegate subjected to this lunacy holds her own god bless her and does an admirable job playing the straight woman to this group of wackos.
Adam McKay former SNL head writer makes his directorial and screenwriting debut with Anchorman. The story has a fairly classic and simplistic framework--Burgundy starts out on top falls to rock bottom and climbs his way back up again--but it's pretty evident early on that with the likes of Ferrell and the rest all McKay has to do is turn the camera on them and let it all happen. Watching Burgundy incoherent breaking down in a phone booth after his dog is supposedly booted off a bridge by an irate motorcyclist or the news team rumble where San Diego news rivals go at each other with nasty weapons it's funny stuff. But rather than just let the comedy come from the story á la Old School Anchorman throws in some antics that probably sounded comical on paper but end up being silly and forced. For example Veronica and Ron going to "pleasure town " (sexual bliss) with animated furry animals and rainbows instead of seeing the love act itself or the gang trying to get out of a bear pit after they've woken up the hibernating animals that's a little over the top. At least Anchorman never goes for the toilet humor--nope you won't find a vomit urine semen or poop joke in this film. You will however find gratuitous shots of Ferrell's hairy chest. Shiver.
Top Story: CBS Says They Didn't Pay Jackson for Interview
Both CBS and Michael Jackson have denied reports that the network paid the pop singer for his exclusive interview on 60 Minutes. According to Reuters, a New York Times report on Wednesday, based on an anonymous source described as a disgruntled former business associate of Jackson's, said that the network landed the Ed Bradley interview by agreeing to pay $1 million extra to license their previously shelved music special celebrating Jackson's career, which airs Jan. 2. CBS and two of Jackson's closest representatives, however, told Reuters the terms of Jackson's entertainment special and his 60 Minutes interview were negotiated separately. "This was not a package deal," CBS spokesman Chris Ender told Reuters. "These were two parallel projects. They were being developed and worked on independently." Enders did admit, however, that the two projects became "linked" in the aftermath of the allegations against Jackson "when we told Mr. Jackson's representatives that we couldn't broadcast the entertainment special if he wasn't addressing the situation on a CBS News program." Jackson's defense lawyer, Mark Geragos, conceded the prospect of reviving Jackson's music special likely weighed in his decision to go on 60 Minutes, Reuters reports. "I think that's a fair statement," he said when asked if Jackson did the interview to get the special back on CBS.
Rush Guitarist Arrested New Year's Eve
Alex Zivojinovich, the lead guitarist for the rock band Rush and better known by his stage name Alex Lifeson, was arrested Wednesday night for drunken and violent behavior after attacking sheriff's deputies at the Naples, Fla., Ritz-Carlton hotel, AP reports. Deputies said they used a stun gun on Zivojinovich, 50, who faces six charges that include aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer with violence, and disorderly intoxication after a scuffle broke out when Zivojinovich's son Justin refused to leave the stage. Justin, 33, and his wife Michelle Zivojinovich, 30, were also arrested.
Imbruglia Gets Hitched
Actress-turned-pop singer Natalie Imbruglia, 28, and Daniel Johns, 24, frontman of the Australian band Silverchair, exchanged vows Wednesday in a private ceremony at an exclusive resort on Australia's northeastern coast, The Associated Press reports. It's the first marriage for both.
Screenwriter Dunne Dies
Author-screenwriter John Gregory Dunne, best known for his screen collaborations with wife Joan Didion, including The Panic in Needle Park and the 1976 remake A Star is Born, died Tuesday in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack, Reuters reports. He was 71.
French Author Says Disney Copied Nemo
Franck Le Calvez, a French children's book author, claims Finding Nemo closely resembles his book Pierrot the Clown Fish, in which his hero, a wide-eyed, orange-striped fish, gets separated from his family, AP reports. In February, a court will hear his case against Disney and Pixar Animation, the French newspaper Le Monde reports. The case is for breach of copyright and trademark, and Le Calvez also wants Nemo merchandise taken off the shelves of French shops.
Norway's Idol Wins World Title
Norway's Pop Idol Kurt Nilsen picked up the World Idol title Thursday, beating 10 other Idol competitors from across the globe including American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, AP reports. Nilson, a 25-year-old plumber, won the Norwegian version of Pop Idol in May. His single, "She's So High," went straight to No. 1 in the Norwegian singles chart and is the country's biggest-selling single to date.
Irwin Introduces Baby to First Croc Feeding
Animal Planet's wacky Crocodile Hunter host and animal activist Steve Irwin took his infant son to his first crocodile feeding Friday, AP reports, offering a chicken to the snapping croc while holding the baby, Bob, in his other hand. "He's one month old, so it's about time Bob got out there and did his first croc demo," the Australian celebrity told the crowd at the Australian Zoo. Irwin's wife Terri, who gave birth to her second child Dec. 1, also attended the show, billed as the baby's "croc feeding debut."
Willie Nelson To Debut Antiwar Ballad
Country singer Willie Nelson plans to debut his new song, the antiwar ballad "What Ever Happened to Peace on Earth," at a fund-raising concert Saturday for Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in Austin, Texas. "Now, I haven't played it for Toby (Keith) yet," a laughing Nelson told the Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday. Although the two are close friends, the sentiments of Nelson's song are the polar opposite of Keith's angry-American anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," with its call to arms. "Toby wrote that song in reaction to 9/11, which was a totally different thing than watching U.S. soldiers die in Iraq," Nelson said. "Toby's said he's not a Republican or a Democrat; he's a Christian. So we're coming from the same place."
Role Call: Mostow Counts Seconds; Woody Allen Robs Pierre
Terminator 3 director Jonathan Mostow has signed to write and direct a remake of John Frankenheimer's film Seconds for Paramount Pictures. According to Variety, the original 1966 film starred John Randolph as an older man who gets a new lease on life with a new face and identity. Even though he's reconstituted in the handsome visage of Rock Hudson, the change brings its own problems. No one has been cast at yet. Seconds becomes the second film by the late Frankenheimer that is being remade by Paramount…Jonathan Demme will direct Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber in The Manchurian Candidate…Director W
With four days left before his execution notoriously reticent death row inmate David Gale (Kevin Spacey) decides at last to share his story with the press. He chooses as his vessel reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) who's just spent a week in the slammer for refusing to reveal her sources on a kiddie porn cover story. As Gale's story unfolds (and we see it in flashback) Bitsey becomes convinced he's innocent and she and her intern Zack (Gabriel Mann) begin a race against the clock to discover the truth that will save him. Sound like an overblown blurb from a movie studio's press files? Apologies for that but the best way to talk about this story's climactic points is to resort to hyperbolic clichés of this ilk--the movie's key moments are without exception melodramatic and overblown. Nonetheless most of the movie is suspenseful the story has several interesting (I wouldn't go so far as compelling) twists and there are plenty of reasons to root for Gale's cause especially if like him and admittedly like me you're a political liberal who fancies yourself at least somewhat intellectual.
If there's one thing that defines Kevin Spacey's acting style it's his unparalleled ability to discourse at length on philosophical minutiae a gift that undoubtedly contributed to his getting this role in the first place. But Spacey gets to stretch a bit more playing Gale--the professorial character in his pre-death row life was a loose cannon even by academia's standards: he partied with his students talked about fantasy and desire in class and belonged to Death Watch a liberal advocacy group opposed to the death penalty. Beyond that his personal life was a disaster. His wife was having an affair with a Spaniard Gale was a borderline alcoholic and his ego was the size of a generously proportioned watermelon. So there are plenty of challenges for Spacey in the part--both in the flashbacks and the death row sequences--and he obviously embraces them all; unfortunately sometimes he squeezes the life out of them in the process foregoing for example the tragic nuances of real alcoholism for the stumbling sobriquets of an overblown town-drunk philosopher. The equally gifted Laura Linney as Constance--Gale's stalwart friend fellow professor co-director of Death Watch and alleged murder victim--finds herself in less familiar territory. Her character is complex yet remarkably one-dimensional for most of the movie which leaves the talented actress turning--albeit reluctantly--to melodrama for support. Winslet too is on unfamiliar ground with an American accent (quite well done old chap-ette) a mission and a bitchiness that's too little seen from this pristine young girl.
It's truly unfortunate that director Alan Parker didn't keep a tighter handle on The Life of David Gale's more dramatic moments since had they come off better this would have been a more even and generally more watchable film. As it is each of the talented lead actors has a scene in which they really let loose on the hysterical wailing waterworks--Winslet lucky gal has two. They may not be bad enough to make you cringe necessarily but they're obviously overplayed. The film would have benefited from a wail-o-meter that would have allowed the bawling to go so far and only so far. All that aside though this film is ultimately less melodramatic than its equivalent TV movie version would have (and probably has) been--and that leads me to my final point. The Life of David Gale is about what TV pundits would call a hot-button issue and while the public is intelligent enough not to be emotionally swayed by the hue and cry of activists on either side of the argument we can--and by God we will--be entertained by it. So I just want to say thank you Hollywood for once again one-upping the 6 o'clock news and for showing that even discussions of the most important issues of our time can be squeezed into a two-hour movie and manipulated in the interests of suspense and drama.