September 24, 2009 4:25pm EST
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Set sometime in the near future Surrogates imagines a world in which 99% of its inhabitants live their lives vicariously through “surrogates ” robotic avatars who brave the hazards of the physical world while their schlubby owners sit safely at home in computerized cocoons experiencing it all via neural sensors affixed to their heads. Think of it as a flesh-and-blood version of World of Warcraft. Or Facebook. Or The Sims. Potential present-day analogies are practically infinite.
As a consequence of mankind’s virtualized existence violent crime has dropped to an all-time low since any harm inflicted on a surrogate results in no such injury to its host. Folks are free to go about their increasingly decadent business without fear of the inevitable drawbacks that come with high-risk lifestyles. If their robotic counterpart happens to incur damage or cease functioning altogether owners can simply order a replacement from VSI the suitably dubious mega-corporation in Surrogates that manufactures and markets the robots.
Not everyone is eager to embrace this new world order of course and a determined group of quasi-religious luddites led by a dreadlocked guru aptly named “The Prophet” (Ving Rhames) has assembled in major cities around the world. Eschewing most modern technology they toil like the Amish in shabby communes as their Prophet regales them with apocalyptic diatribes.
Back in the civilized world cracks in the utopian edifice form when a pair of surrogate murders result in the deaths of their respective hosts something heretofore considered impossible. Called in to investigate the first homicides in years FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) discover that one of the victims is the son of Canter (James Cromwell) the very man who first invented robotic surrogates. Greer and Peters naturally assume the Prophet and his acolytes to be at the core of the conspiracy but a nagging question remains: How could they gain access to the advanced technology necessary to create a weapon capable of killing both a surrogate and its host?
Clocking in at a breezy 88 minutes Surrogates spares its audience the troubling metaphysical questions that so often characterize more ambitious sci-fi projects. Much like the robots at the heart of its story director Jonathan Mostow’s (Terminator 3) film may be shallow and synthetic but it sure is pretty to look at. Expect to spend more time contemplating Willis’ absurd blonde wig or Mitchell’s remarkable robotic rack than the implications of society’s increasing disconnect from itself.
With its all-too-thin storyline and derivative characters Surrogates makes for a forgettable if occasionally entertaining experience. A subplot involving the increasingly strained relationship between agent Greer and his wife (played by Rosamund Pike) presumably meant to add depth to Willis’ character feels tedious and unnecessary. A monotonous score telegraphs every decisive moment in the film ensuring that even the most oblivious viewer is aware that something important is about to happen. And despite director Mostow’s obvious proficiency with visual effects — both practical and digital — some set pieces look cheaply rendered.
There are dozens — dozens — of car crashes in Surrogates yet not a single airbag deploys. The future it seems has no place for proper automobile safety.
October 16, 2008 10:20pm EST
Rushed into production last spring in order to make an October release date right in the heart of a presidential election director Oliver Stone’s W hits the bullseye with this fairly well-balanced portrait of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) a man who grows up in the shadow of a larger-than-life father and goes on to serve in the White House four years longer than his “Poppy” did. Stone’s biographical study of the brash cowboy from Texas chronicles his early years as an oilman and baseball team owner through his run for Congress his work on his father’s presidential campaign his election as Governor of Texas and finally his ascent into the White House where he still sits today. We also see his courtship of Laura (Elizabeth Banks) and particularly his awkward dealings with his dad (James Cromwell) a complex relationship that ultimately forces W to rise up and compete with the legacy of his father and mentor. It’s that difficult dynamic between Bush Sr. and Jr. that forms the heart of the film and reveals the enigma that remains George W. Much of the story centers on the buildup to the decision to go into Iraq. Those sequences set in the White House situation room are at times hilarious in a Dr. Strangelove way and also a somewhat sobering if speculative window into how the Bush Administration does things. This film could not succeed if it was played as simply a Saturday Night Live sketch favoring impersonation over interpretation. Stone asked his actors to get the “spirit” of their respective characters and the results are impressive indeed. Brolin hits a career high and leaps into the Oscar race with his portrayal of George W. Bush. He’s close enough physically although more movie star in looks but he neatly captures the bravado and masked insecurities at the heart of the 43rd President particularly when dealing with his father brilliantly played by Cromwell. Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time but certainly captures what we think we know about the former First Lady. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush is charming and winning. As for the Bush Administration figures who play a pivotal part in the proceedings Richard Dreyfuss stands out playing VP Dick Cheney as a Machiavellian figure out to create an empire in the Middle East. He loses himself in the skin of Cheney with almost effortless ease. Equally impressive is Toby Young who not only resembles political mastermind and Bush operative Karl Rove but turns this polarizing figure into a three-dimensional human being. Stacy Keach as a religious influence and Scott Glenn as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also shine in their few scenes. Less successful are Jeffrey Wright lacking authority as the imposing Colin Powell and Thandie Newton trying too hard to become Condoleeza Rice. There is no question Oliver Stone knows his way around this kind of controversial subject matter but what may shock many is the measured and thoughtful way he approaches the material. Screenwriter Stanley Weiser’s take on Bush is to present a man haunted by the legacy of his father with a need to prove he is tougher and stronger. Stone approaches it as straight biography while also treating it as part comedy. Despite its dramatic structure W. is often subtly played for laughs. Clearly the cast of characters in this almost Shakespearean tragedy gives the filmmaker lots of fodder but they are presented in a surprisingly respectful manner. Even W comes off as an empathetic and sometimes likeable figure a cowboy in the White House. As always Stone’s command of the medium is impressive and this is one of his finest films in many years. There’s something about a president that sparks him creatively whether it’s J.F.K. Nixon and now W.. Ultimately he holds back his own views and presents the man warts and all; he lets the viewer decide what place in history there will be for George W. Bush and by extension the film Stone has made about him.
April 07, 2008 5:13am EST
Welsh actor Ioan Gruffud is set to play former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the new Oliver Stone movie W.
The star is also joined by actress Thandie Newton in the film, based on the life of President George W. Bush. Newton is reportedly in line to play Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
No Country for Old Men star Josh Brolin will play Bush in Stone's drama, which will also feature James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks and Ellen Burstyn.
Cromwell and Burstyn will play the President's parents George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush, respectively, while Banks will portray First Lady Laura Bush.
W is due to began filming on May 21.
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August 24, 2007 5:11am EST
See Jane dance and flirt. See Jane exchange witty repartee. See Jane fall deeply in love with the wrong boy. But mostly see Jane become the beloved Victorian romantic author we’ve come to know. In a “what if” scenario Becoming Jane combines bits and pieces of the real Austen’s life gathered from letters she wrote to her sister with a somewhat fictitious account of her life as a 20-year-old emerging as a writer thinking way ahead of her time and dreaming of doing what was then nearly unthinkable--marrying for love. The young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) meets her match in Londoner Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Despite her parents’ urgings to marry someone who could assure her future social standing—and Jane’s initial disregard for the roguish and decidedly non-aristocratic Tom—the two soon fall head over heels for each other. Their romance bucks all the sense and sensibility of the age but reality hits hard when it’s clear they will risk everything that matters--family friends and fortune--if they marry. According to Becoming Jane Jane’s love dilemma and inevitable heartbreak (the real Austen died a spinster) is what inspires her to write her tomes. A self-proclaimed Jane Austen enthusiast herself Hathaway fits right in as the budding author perfecting the British accent and Victorian look. The actress’ own free-spirited nature and spunkiness seen in her films The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada seep right through in Becoming Jane. The girl just can’t help herself. Some ardent Austen scholars--who believe the real Austen was much more subdued in her demeanor--may scoff at how Hathaway plays Jane much like the author's most famous heroine Pride & Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet but it works for the movie. Matching Hathaway every step of the way is McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) as the young suitor Tom Lefroy. His devil-may-care attitude draws Jane in as the two would-be lovers spar like champs. But once he falls hard for Jane McAvoy breaks your heart. He too would have made a dashing Mr. Darcy. Becoming Jane’s supporting players also keep up especially consummate actors Julie Walters and James Cromwell as Jane’s parents. They play the elder Austens with much affection. But despite the fact that they married for love Walters’ Mrs. Austen doesn’t want the same life for her daughter. “I don’t want you to pick potatoes like me!” she exclaims. Women of that age had little choice. With the countless adaptations of her work—including the most recent Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley—Jane Austen has proven to be gold for movie and television studios alike. A biopic on the author herself was unavoidable. Even though Austen remained unmarried her whole life many believed she must have experienced some kind of love to be able to write as she did. Becoming Jane’s screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams therefore use their imagination incorporating what little was known of Austen’s young adulthood and creating an Austenite world with Jane as its romantic star. Much like Finding Neverland it’s great fun recognizing characters and situations that may have inspired Austen’s novels. Adding to the mix is British director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) who frames the English countryside with a loving eye and captures the late 18th century/early 19th century period just as well as any Merchant-Ivory film could have. The only thing Becoming Jane lacks is a wonderfully weepy happy ending in which the dashing gentleman strides across a field to proclaim his love for the heroine. But Jane says it herself in the film: Even if she can’t have love and fulfillment by God she’ll make sure all of her novels’ heroines have theirs.
December 15, 2006 4:43am EST
Based on E.B. White’s enduring children’s story we meet Wilbur the Pig (Dominic Scott Kay) a runt who is saved from the axe by a little farm girl named Fern (Dakota Fanning). She raises Wilbur from infancy but eventually she has to send Wilbur over to her uncle’s neighboring farm since there’s no room for a pig in her house. There in the barn Wilbur meets the assortment of colorful animal characters: Betsy (Reba McEntire) and Bitsy (Kathy Bates) two pessimistic cows; motherly goose Gussy (Oprah Winfrey) and her henpecked hubby Golly (Cedric the Entertainer); Samuel (John Cleese) an uptight sheep; the skittish horse Ike (Robert Redford); the self-serving rat Templeton (Steve Buscemi); and of course sweet Charlotte (Julia Roberts) a spider with a heart of gold. When the naïve Wilbur finds out he might be Christmas dinner Charlotte makes a promise to her new friend that she’ll do everything in her power to make sure Wilbur sees the Christmas snow—and everyone ends up helping her out. What could be more fun than to voice a barnyard animal? Winfrey and Cedric’s geese banter is like an old married couple. Cleese gives Samuel the sheep a certain upper-crustiness. Redford is actually pretty funny as a horse who’s deathly afraid of spiders (“I’ll listen to you but I just can’t look at you”). Buscemi is a particularly nice choice as the sneaky rat Templeton who only thinks about filling his belly with food (no typecasting there we swear). For pure comic relief there are also two crows voiced by Andre Benjamin and Thomas Haden Church who just can’t quite get around the whole scarecrow thing. And as Charlotte Roberts has a truly soothing and loving tone sort of how you’d imagine it from the book. As for the human aspect Fanning continues to do what she does best playing Fern with the right amount of youthful innocence spunkiness and determination. Just wondering how we are going to handle it when this amazing little actress grows up and starts doing like adult things. Actually it is sort of a shame they couldn’t get a live-action version of Charlotte's Web made before Babe. Sure there was the 1973 animated cutesy film but a live-action adaptation of this timeless tale really should have been the standard by which all computer-generated talking farm animal movies would follow don’t you think? Instead Charlotte's Web pales ever so slightly in comparison. Oh well water under the bridge. Director Gary Winick (13 Going on 30) still manages to invoke the wonderful and uplifting spirit of the novel keeping faithful to the text in all ways. Visually the film is crisp and flawless in its execution particularly in the beauty and splendor of how Charlotte spins her webs and emotionally hearts will indeed swell and tears will flow. Charlotte's Web is the perfect family movie to inspire the next generation of young readers and viewers as well as for the rest of us who fondly remember the childhood classic.
October 10, 2006 7:23am EST
Set primarily in the week following the death of Princess Diana when the nation was mourning for “the people’s princess ” the events largely escaped the notice of the Queen Elizabeth (Mirren) who was on vacation at her Scottish estate. Without any official statement or public expression of grief coming from Buckingham Palace public sentiment began to turn against the Queen to the point that some were calling for the end of the monarchy itself. The newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) just four months in office found himself in the difficult position of trying to convince Her Majesty that she should respond to the public outpouring of grief even though Diana was technically no longer a royal at the time of her death. There followed a dialogue between modernity and the monarchy between honoring tradition and giving into public demands. Mirren is always regal and commanding--she’s already played two queens previously--and does absolute justice to the very tricky task of portraying a living high-profile subject in a sympathetic light. We see the stiff frumpy monarch we’ve glimpsed in photographs and on television but through Mirren we also see Queen Elizabeth’s wry humor and her deep sense of honor and duty. And we see her confidence falter during this crisis in which she realizes just how horribly out of touch she has become with her subjects. Mirren’s Oscar nomination is guaranteed. Sheen takes on the role of the brash novice P.M. with great aplomb. His Blair (whom he played previously in a TV film set before The Queen) is a man who’s eager to modernize the stodgy tradition-bound British government but also someone with a surprising devotion to the Queen. He’s easily the most sympathetic character in the film. We might admire Queen Elizabeth but we can’t help genuinely liking and trusting this young populist who’s so plugged into the nation’s mood. Stage actor Alex Jennings is less effective as Prince Charles partly because he looks nothing like him. Although he’s portrayed as deeply affected by Diana’s death he comes off as spoiled and petulant. James Cromwell(Babe) is an unlikely choice to portray Prince Philip the Queen’s husband. Here he is a cranky traditionalist who decries the “celebrities and homosexuals” being invited to Diana’s funeral and and is convinced that the hordes of people crying in the streets over her will eventually “come to their senses.” On the surface a look at how Queen Elizabeth and the royal family coped with the tragedy of Diana’s death doesn’t seem the likeliest subject for a film and certainly not one that would yield such entertaining results. But director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have managed to capture not just a historic moment in time when tradition and the modern world clashed but when the monarchy looked on the brink of collapse. Frears and Morgan undertook a tremendous amount of research and spoke to dozens of sources to create this surprisingly respectful peek behind closed doors of the ruling elite. One wonders if Prince Philip really calls his wife “cabbage ” but the daily routines and the milieus for the characters have an air of authenticity. The film seamlessly blends archival scenes with recreations especially impressive during Diana’s funeral. The film is restrained and subtle much like the England the queen says she admires but it has a wry sense of humor that sneaks in such as when Blair and his wife are being instructed in the necessary rituals of bowing and scraping for their first meeting with Her Majesty.
September 26, 2005 9:00am EST
L.A. Law star Alan Rosenberg is the new president of the Screen Actor's
Guild (SAG), replacing actress Melissa Gilbert's four years as head of the
The New Jersey-born actor, married to CSI star Marg Helgenberger, was elected
president on Friday at the actors' union, which represents 100,000
actors across the United States.
Rosenberg, 54, beat General Hospital actress Morgan Fairchild and Jingle All
the Way star Robert Conrad to win 40 percent of the vote.
Little House on the Prairie star Gilbert decided to step down earlier this
year after two terms, citing rifts within the union.
Rosenberg says, "I am honored that the members of this great union have
placed their confidence in me.
"I ran a campaign that offered a simple and straightforward promise - I will
fight like hell to get actors their fair share."
Meanwhile, Grease 2 actress Connie Stevens replaced James Cromwell as the
Article Copyright World Entertainment News Network All Rights Reserved.
June 13, 2005 10:06am EST
Babe star James Cromwell has lashed out at the writers of his hit show Six Feet
Under for not warning him that his character would be descending into madness
when he signed up for the role.
The veteran thespian, who plays George Sibley in the drama, insists he had no
idea he'd be so challenged by creator Alan Ball and his staff, and feels the
writers were wrong not to tell him.
The actor fumes, "They didn't tell me what was going to happen to this guy--all of a sudden, he started to fall to pieces, and I had no idea.
"I'm not used to working this way. I like to know when I'm being led somewhere... I've been doing this for 40 years. I'm not a goof. It doesn't add any more life to keep actors out of the loop."
Ball admits he's surprised with Cromwell's outburst in TV Guide
magazine. He says, "It's funny that he has a problem with it, because I think he's done
some of his best work and he should be proud of that."
But Cromwell isn't the only Six Feet Under star who has issues with Ball. Cast member Peter Krause insists the writer is wrong to end the show after its upcoming sixth season.
He says, "When we got the phone call, most of us weren't anticipating this to
be the last season. We thought we'd do two more."
Article Copyright World Entertainment News Network All Rights Reserved.
May 27, 2005 5:33am EST
Former NFL star quarterback Paul Crewe (Sandler) doesn't really like himself much these days. Unproven accusations of points shaving have sent Crewe into a downward spiral of drunkenness and self-destructive behavior. It all comes to a very bad end one night when he takes a wild joyride in his girlfriend's Bentley with cops in pursuit. Crewe is sent to a Texas penitentiary where he figures he'll just quietly ride out his time in hopes of leaving a changed man. The sadistic warden (James Cromwell) however has other plans for Crewe. He forces the quarterback to transform a diverse group of inmates into a football team so that they can play his elite semi-pro team of guards. You know to make the guards look good when they crush the convicts. What the warden doesn't expect is how far Crewe--with the help of fellow inmates Nate Scarborough (Burt Reynolds) and Caretaker (Rock)--takes his task. He recruits his unlikely but somewhat talented teammates with the promise that they'll get a chance to exact revenge on the guards during anything-goes bone-crushing showdown. This is Crewe's one chance to redeem himself. Can he do it? You can do it Paul!
Seems like when Adam Sandler puts his mind to it he really can't lose. And The Longest Yard proves to another perfect Sandler vehicle. As Paul Crewe the comedian returns to his sports roots (Happy Gilmore The Waterboy) and basically plays the same unassuming slightly sardonic straight man. Crewe though is perhaps a little less angry and more resigned about his circumstances. Sandler also displays a fairly convincing flair for quarterbacking. The thing is Sandler doesn't need to stretch to be successful. He tried it in Punch-Drunk Love--and actually pulled it off quite nicely I might add--but if he's making billions of dollars playing himself why mess with a good thing? It's who he surrounds himself with that counts. Reynolds who played Crewe in the 1974 original looks like he's just as pleased as punch to be there as he relive some glory days as the grizzled coach Scarborough. He even gets in a little playing time on the field. What fun for him. The always-hysterical Rock complements his longtime SNL pal to a tee and with his petite frame next to all these hulking men naturally delivers all the funniest lines ("I'll teach you anything just don't eat me!"). Hip-hopper Nelly in his acting debut brings a certain MTV quality to the proceedings (and has a few songs on the soundtrack). And as far as the rest of the cast of ex-football players and professional wrestlers well they are there for a reason.
The 1974 The Longest Yard is apparently one of Sandler's favorite films and it's easy to see why. First of all it has Burt Reynolds who is so cool as the beleaguered Crewe. Then there's the classic underdog theme in which the good guys are actually bad guys--they are all convicted felons--but who we see systematically beat down by the "Man." You want them to thrash the holy crap out of those mean and nasty guards. I mean cons are people too right? Plus there are some great football sequences. So Sandler along with his Happy Madison Productions decides to pay homage assembles another crack team--including director Peter Segal who worked with Sandler on 50 First Dates and Anger Management--and produces a very worthy remake. They stay close to the original material--comedy tinged with sentiment--but of course can't help but add the requisite Sandler-isms. Those over-the-top "isms"--the bathroom humor the lame prison-sex jokes Rob Schneider yelling "You can do it!" et al.--is what all die-hard Sandler fans want to see so I guess it's expected. It's just not my cup of tea.
May 06, 2005 4:52am EST
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.