The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Top Story: Jackson's First Accuser May Testify
A young man who reaped millions by settling a deal with pop star Michael Jackson after a 1993 child molestation investigation may be called to testify at a grand jury examining similar charges currently leveled against the singer, Reuters reports. In an article from the Santa Barbara News-Press, which did not name sources, the prosecutors in the current molestation case against Jackson could include subpoenaing the man, who as a boy was at the center of the 1993 case, as well as employees of Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara, and other witnesses who testified in 1993.
"Buck" Gets New Meaning for Hilton
Hotel heiress Paris Hilton took a nasty spill Friday in Florida when she was thrown from a horse, Reuters reports. She was taping an episode of The Simple Life 2, a second installment to her hit reality series in which this time she and pal Nicole Richie will travel across the southern United States in an Airstream trailer. A spokesman for the TV studio told Reuters Hilton was walking around after falling off the horse, "but to err on the absolute side of caution, we made a decision to Medivac her" to a nearby hospital in Tampa, Fla. Hilton did not sustain any major injuries.
And More on Star Injuries…
Pop princess Britney Spears canceled two concert dates in Chicago and Detroit after suffering a knee injury while performing in Illinois, Reuters reports. Spears, 22, was expected to resume her to Onyx Hotel Tour in Atlanta next Tuesday and would reschedule the missed concert dates for sometime in April, the spokeswoman said.
Janssen Gets Nip/Tuck
Actress Famke Janssen, best known as a former Bond bad girl in GoldenEye and a brilliant mutant in X-Men, will join F/X's hit series Nip/Tuck in a recurring role, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She'll play a woman who becomes a "life coach," or counselor of sorts, to Joely Richardson's character, Julia McNamara, the wife of one of the two plastic surgeons who are the focal point of the series.
Duo To Take Producers Leads
Brad Oscar and Roger Bart will replace Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the hit musical The Producers, Variety reports. Lane and Broderick, who originated the roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, respectively, and eventually left the show, made a limited return in December to boost the show's declining grosses. Oscar and Bart, who played Bialystock and Bloom after Lane and Broderick exited the show the first time, will reprise the roles April 6.
Role Call, Part I: Diesel Eyes Third Fast and Furious; MacLaine, Caine Join Bewitched
Universal Pictures is hoping Vin Diesel will reprise his role as Dominic Toretto for a third The Fast and the Furious. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio, which will release Diesel starrer The Chronicles of Riddick on June 11, is revving up a Fast team, hiring Chris Morgan (S.W.A.T.) to pen a script accommodating Diesel's return to the street-racing franchise. The studio says no deal is in place with the actor, just that it is "looking to bring back certain elements from the first two films." Diesel opted out of the last year's sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, which starred the original The Fast and the Furious player Paul Walker as well as Tyrese and grossed $127 million … Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine have joined the cast of Columbia Pictures Bewitched, a big-screen send-up of the hit '60s TV show, starring Nicole Kidman as kindly witch Samantha Stevens and Will Ferrell as her mortal husband, Darren. Variety reports MacLaine would play Sam's meddling mother Endora, originated by Agnes Moorehead on the TV show. Caine would star as Samantha's father, Maurice.
Role Call, Part II: Spielberg, Cruise Make War, Pitt May Buckle Up Spurs as Jesse James
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise are in cahoots to bring H.G. Wells' classic 1898 sci-fi novel The War of the Worlds to the big screen, Variety reports. The novel was immortalized by Orson Welles' Mercury Theater radio show in 1938, when a performance of it created nationwide panic when listeners didn't realize the war was fiction. In addition to the radio production, the book inspired a 1953 film starring Gene Barry and Les Tremayne. The Spielberg/Cruise production is looking at a late 2005 start date…Warner Bros. is wooing Brad Pitt to star as Jesse James in an adaptation of the Robert Hansen novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. According to Variety, the story focuses on Robert Ford as a way to tell the James legend. Ford was a member of the James gang and started out worshipping the exploits of the fastest gun in the West. He eventually became envious and figured he'd take over the gang and garner his own reputation by shooting James in the back.
Grammy Award-winning artist Eminem was sentenced to two years' probation Tuesday for carrying a concealed weapon.
The rapper had entered a guilty plea with prosecutors in February after he pistol-whipped a man he saw kissing his wife, Kimberly, outside a Detroit-area nightclub called Hot Rocks in June.
Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga said earlier that he would seek no more than six months because Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Bruce Mathers III, "has no record and there was no serious injury," The Associated Press reported.
Circuit Judge Antonio Viviano also fined Eminem $2,500 and ordered him to undergo counseling and submit to drug testing. The rapper also must ask the court for permission to travel overseas.
Eminem already has reached a preliminary divorce agreement with his wife that gives him joint custody of their 5-year-old daughter.
On the advice of his attorneys, Eminem made no statement in court. He stood silent between his attorneys in a dark suit and tie.
The rapper's mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs, was at court Tuesday to see her son's sentencing.
"It was just basically to make sure he was OK," she told Reuters. "I didn't want my son to get jail time. You may have differences, but you never stop loving a child," she told Reuters.
Eminem said after his sentence that he was looking forward to putting the case behind him.
"The judge treated me fair, like any other human being," he said, AP reported. "I just want to get it behind me and get back to spending time with my little girl and making music."
Springsteen shows who the "Boss" is
New Jersey rock star Bruce Springsteen won his legal battle Tuesday to block Masquerade Music Ltd. from releasing 19 songs he recorded before he became famous.
The London Court of Appeal dismissed Masquerade's challenge of a December 1998 decision preventing the release of an unauthorized album featuring Springsteen's early work. The London-based Masquerade had imported about 75 copies of the album, Before the Fame, and had "threatened to release many further copies," said High Court Justice Francis Ferris, according to the BBC News.
The songs were recorded in the early 1970s, several years before Springsteen's hit "Born to Run." The album would feature the "Boss" accompanying himself with guitar and piano, material that was never meant for release.
Springsteen felt that Masquerade's attempt to claim ownership of the songs' copyright was an attack on his artistic integrity
"The music you release is the way you shape your career, and I have always believed you have to do all you can do to protect your work," Springsteen told Reuters.
The singer received an award of $725,000 in legal costs and the cost of the appeal, still to be determined.
Strike Waivers OK'd by SAG president
Strike waivers for individual filmmakers have received the approval of Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels. He will support granting the waivers if the qualifiers accept the guild's labor demands during a work hiatus, but he stressed the ultimate decision will be made by SAG's negotiating committee.
"I want to keep actors working," Daniels said Monday following a news conference about the announcement of legislative hearings on agent issues.
Some more stringent guild members believe this move may take away leveraging power at the negotiation table, while others see it as a tactic to bring out the benefits of the guild contract.
SAG has received hundred of requests from filmmakers seeking waivers in the last few months. The SAG contract is due to expire June 30. Negotiation talks have not yet been set.
Castro attends "Thirteen Days" screening
Producers of Thirteen Days, including star Kevin Costner, Peter Almond and Armyan Bernstein, spent many hours Monday viewing the film and discussing its historical significance with Cuban president Fidel Castro -seven hours, to be exact, lasting until 2 a.m. The actor was very appreciative of the president's time and that Castro responded very favorably to the film, Costner's spokesman Stephen Rivers told Reuters.
The film's ending has Moscow agreeing to withdraw the missiles from Cuba to the annoyance of Castro, who resented the deal being cut over his head. The U.S. delegation explained to Castro before the screening that the film represented "one perspective on the crisis from one side" and encouraged the Cubans to make their own version.
Not surprisingly, the Cuban news agency, the Presna Latina, felt the film displayed a superficial vision, typical of Hollywood.
"The North Americans are presented yet again as the saviors of the world, while Cuba appears in the film, according to some critics, as mere decoration in a sugary film of pure Hollywood style," the agency said. "With more dialogue than action, the film tends to send the spectator to sleep," it added. The film is set to be screened Wednesday in Moscow for Russian dignitaries and former U.S. cabinet members who were involved in the Missile Crisis, including former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Napster continues to filter music files
Napster filed a third compliance report on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, saying it has blocked more than 1.7 million files from its service, substantially improving its filtering technology.
The online song-swap service reported that its has reduced in half the average number of music files shared by users.
Napster has spent $750,000 for six-month's worth of access to the song database of the Internet music company Gracenote and hired 15 staffers to increase its efforts.
In March, Napster disputed claims filed by the Recording Industry Association, which blamed the Web site of inadequate filtering efforts.
In opposition, Napster said the RIAA's complaint dealt with parameters of injunction and not the file sharer's effort to comply with it.
Both companies will have a chance to reconcile their differences on Tuesday at a hearing before District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel to discuss compliance issues.
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Andrew Morton to write unauthorized Madonna biography
Andrew Morton, the author of such celebrity biographies as Princess Diana and Monica Lewinsky, has a new subject: pop star Madonna.
St. Martin's Press purchased the North American rights to Morton's unauthorized Madonna biography, in which he will "disclose the unknown Madonna," St. Martin's president and publisher, Sally Richardson, said Tuesday in a statement.
"Andrew loves complicated women and has a genius for getting into their psyche and telling the world what makes them tick," Richardson added.
A 500,000-copy first printing is planned. The book is scheduled for release in November.
Morton wrote 1992's Diana: Her True Story and 1999's Monica's Story, both New York Times No. 1 bestsellers.
Queen tune makes a comeback
British pop singer Robbie Williams will work with Queen to record a new version of the rock band's 1977 hit "We Are the Champions." The song will be included on the soundtrack for A Knight's Tale, the upcoming film starring Aussie hunk Heath Ledger, according to Reuters.
A spokesman for Williams emphasized that this was a onetime collaboration.
"There are no plans to release it as a single here or in the U.S. It's for a film, so it will just be part of a soundtrack," he said.
Williams recorded the track with Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon from Queen, which originally sold more than 100 million records. Lead singer Freddie Mercury died in 1991 of AIDS.
"Captain Corelli" to receive London premiere
The highly anticipated love story Captain Corelli's Mandolin will receive its world premiere in London on Thursday, April 19, according to Reuters.
The film, starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, is based on the bestseller by British novelist Louis de Bernieres. It details a love affair between an Italian officer, Corelli, and a local girl on the Greek island of Cephallonia during World War II. This leads up to the events of September 1943, when, after the Italians declared an armistice with Allies, the Italian soldiers left on the island refuse to surrender to the Germans and fought in vain for 10 days.
The premiere will benefit the British Red Cross.
Paul McCartney's daughter getting into the act
Fashion designer Stella McCartney, the daughter of former Beatle Paul McCartney, wants Beatles documentary filmmaker Geoff Wonfer to film her as she sets up her own fashion label, according to Reuters. Wonfer produced The Beatles Anthology and has made films about McCartney's late photographer mother, Linda.
The documentary would chronicle McCartney's departure from the French fashion label Chloe to create her own Gucci-backed designer label.
Several television stations are bidding for the rights to air the documentary.
"Ab Fab" is back
The British cult hit comedy Absolutely Fabulous will return to television after a five-year absence, with the original cast in place, according to USA Today. The BBC and Comedy Central will produce six new episodes to air in November.
Known affectionately among fans as Ab Fab, the sitcom follows the misadventures of two boozy, sex-starved, fashion-crazed friends played by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.
Rosie goes home after stint in hospital
Talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell was sent home from a New York hospital Monday afternoon, after she was admitted for a staph infection in her hand, according to USA Today. She will not return to her show this week as she is still recovering and on antibiotics.
O'Donnell went to the emergency room on April 3 complaining of excruciating pain in her hand after she had surgery to repair a tendon from a fishing accident last year. Barbara Walters and other members of the show The View are filling in this week for O'Donnell. She will return to her duties behind the desk on Monday.
Actor and activist Graf dies
David Graf, a character actor who starred in all seven Police Academy films, died Saturday of a heart attack in Arizona. He was 50.
Best known for his role as Eugene Tackleberry in the Police Academy series, and for his recurring role as Col. Chase on NBC's hit drama The West Wing, Graf also was very active with the Screen Actors Guild. He served on the national board as a Hollywood representative, the TV-theatrical steering committee, the new technologies caucus and the national disciplinary review committee.
"His kindness, generosity of spirit and ability to tirelessly work for the better of actors will be missed," SAG President William Daniels told Variety.
His other credits includeRules of Engagement, Citizen Ruth and Guarding Tess.
He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and two children.