The Weinstein Company
Before The Butler, few people knew anything about Eugene Allen, the fascinating inspiration behind the film's Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker. Though we've seen plenty of Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and MLK, there are tons of similar lesser-known historical figures out there who have lived exciting, influential lives. It might just take a well-scored, sumptuously costumed biopic to bring one of these historical unknowns into the spotlight.
Elisha KaneKane was a U.S. naval officer who journeyed into the Arctic twice, trekking across the ice for 83 days and saving many lives through his bravery and medical skill.
Adele AstaireThis story has serious romantic and musical potential; Adele Astaire was considered a far more talented performer than her famous brother Fred, but chose to give up show biz when she fell in love with a British lord.
Empress MyeongseongKnown as Queen Min, which is also what I would call the biopic, this 19th century Korean feminist used her position as the emperor's wife to wield diplomatic power, form alliances, and encourage the modernization of Korea.
Edward BernaysThough there has already been an excellent documentary made about Bernays, the advertiser who shaped modern consumerism deserves a lavish dramatization, perhaps starring Martin Freeman.
Amos Bronson AlcottThe father of better-known Louisa May, Amos was far ahead of his time; he was a vegan, a women's rights activist, an abolitionist, and a teaching reformer who attempted to create an Eden-like utopia for himself and was revered by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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September 02, 2010 11:19am EST
When the animated opening credits of Warner Bros. Going the Distance begin a barrage of colorful images envelope the screen shaking and shifting to the sounds of contemporary pop-rock like a hipster-chick in a SoHo lounge. It sets the tone for a lighthearted but levelheaded romantic comedy that like the music is cool and crafty but not completely above the clichés of the tried-and-true genre.
Making her feature-film directorial debut Oscar-nominated documentarian Nanette Burstein (On the Ropes) set out to make a film that as she put it “would feel as real as possible” – a tough job when taking on a studio comedy. But with a relatable premise a punchy script and a cast that possesses a ton of personality she succeeds at delivering a surprisingly fresh film that chronicles the pros and cons of a long-distance relationship between Justin Long’s Garrett and Drew Barrymore’s Erin.
The first half hour is filled with the standard situational set-ups and character introductions that one expects from any film. We learn everything we need (and want) to know about Garrett and Erin: He’s a New York record label workhorse and she’s an aspiring journalist interning at a metropolitan newspaper. They frequent the same dive bar in downtown Manhattan and have a beer and barbeque-wings fueled fling which turns into a steady summer-long relationship. But all good things must come to an end and as September approaches she prepares to head back to Stanford for another semester much to their mutual dismay. However the feelings between them are sincere and they decide to give their spatially challenged relationship a shot.
Real-life couple Long and Barrymore have a few touching moments throughout the film mostly when the trials of their long-distance relationship take a toll but they are a bore in comparison to the supporting cast. Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day bring frat-house etiquette and bro-mantic charm to the movie as Garrett’s best friends Box and Dan. Together they are the living embodiment of testosterone and man-child — archetypes that have become all-too common in current rom-coms — but with legitimately funny performances they really pay off. Christina Applegate is good for a load of laughs as Erin’s older sister Corinne who is skeptical of Erin’s eagerness to engage in yet another risky romance; she steals the show with her unrelenting commentary.
Going the Distance doesn’t break new ground within the genre or redefine cinematic romance but it balances the sweet and sour moments of its story very well. Burstein minimizes the drama and keeps the comedy raw to maximize the entertainment value of the movie which should please all who purchase a ticket. Somehow the long distance dilemma hasn’t been tackled on film before and that makes the movie appear to be more original that it really is but in a year where so few romantic comedies have brought the goods (The Back-Up Plan Sex and the City 2) Going the Distance does just that.
Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is a diamond-drenched pampered pooch who lives the high life in Beverly Hills. Beloved by her owner Aunt Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) and adored by the landscaper’s Chihuahua Papi (George Lopez) she is left with a babysitter niece Rachel (Piper Perabo) when Viv takes off on vacation. Rachel impulsively departs on a last-minute weekend romp to Mexico with Chloe who not only gets lost south of the border but ends up in some very bad company. Saved from certain death in a dog fight she hooks up with a street-savvy German Shepherd (Andy Garcia) harboring a dark secret from his past life as a police dog. Along the way her diamond ID collar is swiped by a conniving rat (Cheech Marin) and his accomplice a very fidgety Iguana (Paul Rodriguez) leading to major chaos as all of them are pursued by the vicious El Diablo (Edward James Olmos) a Doberman out for revenge and one very disoriented Chihuahua. Will Rachel and Papi be able to find her in time before clueless Aunt Viv’s return? That’s the burning question. Basically a talking dog movie with a heavy Spanish accent Beverly Hills Chihuahua doesn’t exactly shy from stereotyped Mexicans but since this is a canine Babe it manages to get away with just about anything simply because these pooches are just so darned cute. The voice cast which features such Latino stars as George Lopez Edward James Olmos Paul Rodriguez Cheech Marin and Andy Garcia is perfectly cast lending a lot of fun to the proceedings especially Lopez as the lovably loyal Papi and Marin as a jewel-thief rat. Barrymore is also ideal as the ultra-rich and spoiled Chloe who is the equivalent of a canine Paris Hilton. The human actors are basically wallpaper with Curtis given little dimension in her relatively brief screen time and Perabo spending most of the film searching for the pup she carelessly misplaced. Manolo Cardona does nicely as the family gardener who helps out in the search. But it’s the remarkable real dog stars that steal this show. You have to wonder how their trainers led by Birds And Animals Unlimited’s Mike Alexander pulled some of this stuff off. These animals are more three-dimensional than most real thesps we’ve seen lately and actually do seem to be mouthing their lines (including some very clever dialogue). The old show-business adage says to never work with kids or animals--they take center stage everytime. In this case director Raja Gosnell and the group of talented trainers behind the cameras have proven the saying absolutely right. Dominating the breezy 86-minute time the bulk of the movie is devoted to stars of the four-legged variety and Gosnell makes it look easy with inventive camera angles giving us the POV of all the various dog stars who seem to be taking on the distinct personalities of the “characters” they are playing particularly the soulful down-and-out ex-police dog Garcia voices. You really do wonder what this dog’s deep dark secret is and the relationship forged between him and Chloe is genuinely real. It’s a tribute to Gosnell’s talents and the entire behind-the-scenes team that Beverly Hills Chihuahua turns out to be the family delight it is.
In the ever-changing west of 1882 city marshal Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are two tough dudes out to clean up lawless towns a mission that takes them to Appaloosa. This small mining town has been taken over by a ruthless power-hungry land baron Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) who along with his band of thugs has run the place into the ground. Although their initial efforts are met with some success Cole and Hitch run into personal and professional conflict when a pretty mystery lady Allison French (Renee Zellweger) blows into town. She complicates the picture walking on the gray line between good and evil and generally making the Marshal and his No. 2 overcome unwelcome obstacles in their fight to bring Bragg and his boys to justice. The film based on the novel by Robert B. Parker smartly details the unique problems inherent in bringing law and order to an unruly West. Guiding his co-star Marcia Gay Harden in 2000’s Pollock to an Oscar Harris the director once again shows he has a natural affinity for steering his fellow actors at least most of them into superlative performances which includes himself. In fact the actor doesn’t seem to be the least intimidated in playing the leading role in a movie he also co-wrote directed and produced. Harris comes off as the embodiment of a dedicated lawman who quietly goes about his business determined to clean up the wild wild West his way with the help of a loyal deputy. Mortensen is wonderfully authentic as Harris’ partner in stopping sagebrush crime looking like he’s lived in those boots his entire life. Mortensen’s demeanor and style in the role of Everett Hitch evokes a true feel for a place and time long gone. Together these two do not seem fake or awkwardly contemporary but instead come off as the real deal. Irons is slippery and fun to watch as the devious outlaw Bragg proving as he did in his Oscar-winning Reversal of Fortune there’s nobody as good at playing subtle shades of bad. Zellweger on the other hand lets her acting show at every turn. To be fair her character rarely adds up but she does nothing to give any dimension beyond the obvious to a woman courting both sides of the law. In only his second outing behind the camera in a decade Harris shows Pollock was no fluke. Clearly enamored with the era he nobly honors the great American western tradition crafting a film that fits in with some of the best examples Hollywood has turned out. Some may complain that Appaloosa is long on talk and short on action but the time director Harris devotes to letting his characters develop is far more satisfying than a lot of pointless violence that many Westerns wallow in. Like Howard Hawks’ 1959 classic Rio Bravo this is an honest tale of the camaraderie between a pair of lawmen simply trying to do a job. This is a director whose emphasis is focused on his cast and he’s picked them very carefully right down to the smallest roles surrounding himself with a lot of terrific character actors. Just as impressive are the top notch production values including cinematographer Dean Semler’s stunning New Mexico landscapes.
This African-American variation on The Family Stone subscribes to the notion that Christmas is not really the most wonderful time of the year when it comes to visiting relatives. So don't expect much peace and goodwill to be found when the Whitfields gather together for their first Christmas dinner in four years. The six siblings who spend the holidays at the California home of family matriarch Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) all harbor a dark secret or a hidden agenda. Take Quentin (Idris Elba). He owes two very pissed-off bookies $25 000. Homemaker Lisa (Regina King) wants to sell the family business to fund her unappreciative husband's (Laz Alonso) latest get-rich-quick scheme. Kelli (Sharon Leal) doesn't want Lisa's no-good husband getting his grubby paws on Ma’Dere's hard-earned money. But what does this young professional want that Lisa has? A family of course. Claude (Columbus Short) spends his alone time on the phone to a mystery woman he’s nervous about introducing to Ma’Dere. Mel (Lauren London) doesn’t care what her family thinks of her boyfriend—she just wants to make out with him without being caught. Michael (Chris Brown) nicknamed Baby for obvious reasons fears that following his dream to be singer will break Ma’Dere's heart. She hasn't gotten over her ex-husband leaving her to pursue his music career. While it's down to Ma’Dere to keep the peace she has own her issues to resolve regarding Quentin and her loving relationship with longtime boyfriend Joe (Delroy Lindo). Yes Brown sings. Not once but twice as we treated to his Michael Jackson-flavored R&B. Don’t be surprised if his rendition of “This Christmas” ends up on holiday compilation CDs for decades to come. Brown's a natural on stage but he relies too much on his megawatt smile and undeniable charm when trying to hold his own against old pros Devine and Lindo. Still that's probably more than enough for the adoring fans who would love to "Kiss Kiss" Chris Brown under the mistletoe. Luckily This Christmas doesn't lean too heavily on Brown for director Preston A. Whitmore II's assembled a terrific cast of African-American actors Tyler Perry could only hope to snag for one of his trademark morality plays. Building upon his breakthrough role as a devoted father in Perry's Daddy's Little Girls Elba shows he's just as effective playing a imperfect son unable or unwilling to connect with his mother. He also proves to be a worthy adversary to Lindo who carries himself with quiet dignity during every family crisis. Devine is the very personification of motherly love—she never comes across as a shrill stereotype like Perry's no-nonsense Madea. There's plenty of fun to be had watching tough cookies King and Leal lock horns. And sparks fly between Leal and ER's Mekhi Phifer whose noble firefighter makes Kelli quickly forget she's all business and no pleasure. Saddled with a subplot with no significant payoff Short does the best he can under the worst of circumstances. Thanks to Whitmore's light but assured touch This Christmas makes a silky smooth transition from comedy to drama. Whitmore maintains the perfect balance between the humor and tension that makes dysfunctional family relationships both compelling and difficult to watch. He never lets things get too outrageously nasty; you don’t believe for a minute that the Whitfields—a very likable bunch to boot—won’t overcome their differences before Christmas dinner is served. When they do kiss and make up This Christmas thankfully doesn't get overly gushy. But Whitmore does take refuge in the obvious at times. You just know someone's dying to crack a “ho ho ho” joke about Kelli being wooed by a Santa-outfitted Phifer or that Lisa's going to go all Waiting to Exhale on her husband's Cadillac Escalade. At least the inevitable family dance off is a blast to watch. Too bad Whitmore the screenwriter also burdens Whitmore the director with too many characters to pay attention to and too many loose ends to tie up. Really who would miss Mel? And why is Claude so worried how his family will greet the love of his life when this purportedly taboo romance raises nothing more than eyebrows when all is revealed? Still for all its faults This Christmas remains a warm and engaging examination of family dynamics at a time of great stress and celebration. There are worse ways of spending the holidays than sitting down to Christmas dinner—or boogieing down to vintage Kool & the Gang—with the warring Whitfields.
Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his partner Ria (Jennifer Esposito) get into a car accident en route to investigate a murdered body found in a canyon overlooking Los Angeles. Ria is ready to snap necks but Graham explains "It's the sense of touch…I think we miss that sense of touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something." He ain't kiddin'. Crash begins at the end after 24 hours that have not only irrevocably changed Graham's life but also the lives of several other L.A. denizens who have inadvertently collided with one another. We go back to the previous day and meet an angry Brentwood housewife (Sandra Bullock) and her D.A. husband (Brendan Fraser) who have their car stolen at gunpoint by two carjackers (Larenz Tate and Chris "Ludacris"
Bridges); a paranoid Persian store owner (Shaun Toub) who tangles with a kindly Mexican locksmith (Michael Pena); a rookie LAPD cop (Ryan Phillippe) and his veteran partner (Matt Dillon) who harass an affluent black couple (Terrence Howard and Thandie
Newton) and then later ironically save them in separate hair-raising incidents. Black and white victim and aggressor there doesn't seem to be a right or a wrong as things escalate and culminate. The only common thread is the fact that life is too short to be filled with fear and intolerance.
The all-star cast is nothing less than spectacular. Cheadle tops the list as the beleaguered detective who keeps people including his partner and sometimes lover Esposito at a distance making his inevitable speech about touch even more poignant. This Oscar-nominated actor has the unique gift of lifting a scene to a whole new level just by sitting in silence. Bullock steps out of her America's Sweetheart box for a little while and plays the bigoted but lonely housewife while Fraser plays her workaholic husband with stoic detachment. As the cops Dillon giving one of his better performance to date and Phillippe aptly represent the two sides of the same coin: the racist careworn veteran whose vulnerability is revealed in a subtle way and the idealistic newcomer whose anxiety-ridden day takes its toll in a tragic way. Howard and Newton also turn in superb performances as respectively a television director who hardly ever makes waves and his emotionally wounded wife who can't believe her husband won't fight for her. Most of the more comical moments if you can call them that are provided by Tate (A Man Apart) and Bridges who emerges as yet another rapper who can act. His diatribes about racial relations are spot on. And lastly Crash's most heartening moments come from Pena (TV's The Shield). One night to allay his young daughter's fears he creates an invisible cloak that will forever protect her from harm--only to see it put to the test. It just rips your heart right out of your chest.
Television writer Paul Haggis who makes his directorial feature debut with Crash says his "aim with this film is to explore how intolerance is a collective problem." He should know. Living in Los Angeles he and his wife were once carjacked at gunpoint. Luckily no one was hurt but that one fateful night forced him out of complacency. Suddenly he wasn't immune. But more importantly he began thinking about who these carjackers were what kind of lives they lead--and Crash was born. Los Angeles is the perfect setting as the characters move around independently in their cars and in their homes. This insulated atmosphere only heightens the tension in the film. Real danger lurks on every frame--even in the lighter moments--and it's so gut-wrenching at times it's hard to watch. But just when you are certain some tragedy is about to occur Crash switches gears and surprises you. Of course films of this nature--such as Grand Canyon and Boyz N The Hood which do everything possible to get you to think and react--can also come off a tad preachy at times. In Crash's case it's a sermon we ought to listen to. You'll be hard pressed not to recognize at least to some degree a small part of yourself up there on screen.