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.
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
November 20, 2002 11:16am EST
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts will honor director Spike Lee with a Special Award, Reuters reports. The Brooklynite, known for his films such as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, burst onto the movie scene in 1986, quickly establishing himself as one of the most important young American filmmakers and a controversial figure in black culture. BAFTA President Lord Attenborough will give Lee a silver mask for his consistent body of outstanding work Thursday at the arts organization's London headquarters. Lee is also expected to give an interview about his career to playwright and critic Bonnie Greer before the award ceremony.
Former child star Corey Feldman, who starred in '80s movies including Stand By Me, married his fiancée on the set of his new television series The Surreal Life, The Associated Press reports. Rabbi and rapper MC "U Can't Touch This" Hammer performed the ceremony. The WB network reality show follows the lives of has-been and never-quite-were celebrities living together under one roof including, among others, Webster star Emmanuel Lewis and The Facts of Life's Mindy Cohn.
Pop singer Justin Timberlake broke his foot while rehearsing a dance routine for Sunday's Smash Hits T4 Poll Winners Party, which he was set to co-host with Kelly Osbourne. According to MTV News, Timberlake has had to cancel two weeks of promotional events, but still plans on performing at the Billboard Music Awards on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas.
Maria Shriver, journalist and wife of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has obtained a restraining order against a man she claims is stalking her, Reuters reports. Shriver said the man has been calling for about a year, tried to get into the NBC TV news studio in Los Angeles where she works and claimed to have been married to her.
Veteran producer Marvin Mirisch, one of three filmmaking brothers behind '60s films, including The Apartment and West Side Story, died Nov. 17 at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Reuters reports. He was 84. Marvin was regarded as the chief business mind among the brothers Mirisch. In the latter part of his career, he served as executive producer of the new Pink Panther cartoon series.
The Annie Awards, the animation industry's annual awards, have been rescheduled from their traditional November date to Feb. 1, the AP reports. The move puts the ceremony closer to the Academy Awards, positioning the Annies to become an award that potentially leads into the Oscars. Founded 30 years ago, the Annie Awards honor outstanding animation in television and film.
Rapper/actor Snoop Dogg has been added to the cast of Warner Bros.' big-screen version of the cult series Starsky and Hutch opposite Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. According to Variety, Dogg will play the role of Huggy Bear, the jive-talking hustler played on TV by Antonio Fargas. The film has been greenlit for a February start.
R&B singer Ashanti led the 30th annual American Music Award nominations Tuesday with five nods, with rappers Eminem and Nelly close behind with four nominations apiece. The Osbourne family will host this year's show, which will be telecast Jan. 13 on ABC.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is auctioning off clues to the plot of her next book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. According to Reuters, Rowling has provided a teaser--93 random words on a card that is up for auction on Dec. 12 at Sotheby's in London. A sample of the literary trailer offered by Sotheby's includes these words: "Thirty-eight chapters…might change…Ron…broom…house elf…new teacher…dies."