A New York schoolteacher (Hunt) who is painfully self-aware that her biological clock is ticking LOUDLY finds herself thrust into a downward spiral. In quick succession her new husband (Matthew Broderick) of just a few months leaves her her loving adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen) dies and then out of the blue a brassy talk show host (Bette Midler) shows up announcing she is her actual birth mother. As she tries to deal with all these massive changes the opportunity for a new romance arises with the newly divorced father (Colin Firth) of one of her students. Both clearly have mending of broken hearts to do but the possibility that the chemistry is right-- even if the timing isn’t--is too good to pass up. Before taking matters into her own hands Hunt--who a decade ago won an Oscar for As Good As It Gets and four Emmys for Mad About You--seemed past her creative peak. But this quiet independent labor of love may be just the ticket she needs to get back into the big leagues. With cheeks appearing more gaunt than usual her shopworn appearance works well for a character in full crisis mode. Hunt very much convinces us she is resilient if only hanging on through a series of sudden setbacks. Plus it’s fortunate as the co-writer and director she clearly knows what Hunt the actress needs. The starry supporting cast is generally effective particularly Midler nicely underplaying the AWOL mother who shows up expectedly. Her scenes with Hunt have a sweet authenticity about them that could have been lost had Midler resorted to her usual theatrics. Broderick has a couple of decent scenes as the immature whiny hubby while Firth is always good--even here in an uneven role that seems a bit too convenient to ring true. Helen Hunt is the daughter of veteran director Gordon Hunt and her seeming confidence behind the camera (along with some prior TV experience directing a few episodes of Mad About You) must have been inherited. It’s obvious she has also spent time watching the techniques of previous directors she has worked with such as James L. Brooks and especially Woody Allen. Her feature debut has more than a few things in common with the Woodman’s work. Her screenplay (co-written with Alice Arden and Victor Levin) based on Elinor Lipman’s novel nicely captures the Jewish milieu so prevalent in the book and a source of pride in the movie as well. It’s no easy task playing the roles of writer director and star but like Allen does so often Hunt appears at ease and fully capable of getting just what she wants on screen. Downside is the mixture of comedy and drama requires a little more balance than is evident here but as a first attempt this modest tale of a school teacher searching for a personal rebirth deserves a solid “B.”
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?
As The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock, played by the neurotic Dustin Hoffman, utters this line, it instantly defines the Oscar-winning dark comedy. But the reaction by Ben’s seductress makes the moment one of the most memorable in cinematic history. She tosses her head back and just laughs. Classic.
And that’s just what the Oscar-winning Anne Bancroft, who brought the manipulative Mrs. Robinson to life, was: Classy. She unfortunately succumbed to uterine cancer June 6 at the age of 73 but left a long line of memorable film and stage performances in her wake.
Yet, even as the most lauded actresses of the 1960s and 1970s--earning five Academy Award nominations and one Oscar for playing Annie Sullivan, the teacher of a young Helen Keller (played by Patty Duke) in The Miracle Worker--everyone remembers Mrs. Robinson the most. And it was a part she almost didn't take.
She told The Associated Press in 2003 nearly everyone discouraged her from playing the role of Dustin Hoffman's middle-aged seductress "because it was all about sex with a younger man." Yet Bancroft saw something deeper, viewing the character as having unfulfilled dreams and having been relegated to a conventional life with a conventional husband.
"Film critics said I gave a voice to the fear we all have: that we'll reach a certain point in our lives, look around and realize that all the things we said we'd do and become will never come to be--and that we're ordinary."
Still, all the talk about the controversial part continued to astonish Bancroft. "I am quite surprised that with all my work, and some of it is very, very good, that nobody talks about The Miracle Worker. We're talking about Mrs. Robinson. I understand the world," she said in 2003. "I'm just a little dismayed that people aren't beyond it yet."
"Her combination of brains, humor, frankness and sense were unlike any other artist," Mike Nichols, who directed her in The Graduate, said in a statement. "Her beauty was constantly shifting with her roles, and because she was a consummate actress she changed radically for every part."
Bancroft's beginnings in Hollywood were fairly uneventful. She started doing live television and then went under contract at 20th Century Fox in 1952, starring in a series of B-movies. Although her real name was Anna Maria Louise Italiano, she eventually changed it because it sounded too ethnic for movies. The studio gave her a choice of names; she picked Bancroft "because it sounded dignified,” AP reports.
In 1958, she decided to had had enough of film and headed to Broadway, winning her first Tony opposite Henry Fonda in Two for the Seesaw. The stage and movie versions of The Miracle Worker followed. Her other Academy Award nominations were for The Pumpkin Eater (1964); The Graduate (1967); The Turning Point (1977); and Agnes of God (1985).
Besides her own distinguished career, Bancroft was also known for being the other half of a powerhouse entertainment duo--having been married to Mel Brooks for nearly 41 years. According to the AP, Bancroft said in a 1984 interview she told her psychiatrist the day after meeting Brooks: "Let's speed this process up--I've met the right man. See, I'd never had so much pleasure being with another human being. I wanted him to enjoy me too. It was that simple." A son, Maximilian, was born in 1972.
Bancroft appeared in three of Brooks' comedies: Silent Movie, a remake of To Be or Not to Be and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. She was also the one who suggested that he make a stage musical of his movie The Producers. She explained that when he was afraid of writing a full-blown musical, including the music, "I sent him to an analyst."
When Bancroft watched Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick rehearse The Producers, she realized how much she had missed the theater. In 2002 she returned to Broadway for the first time since 1981, appearing in Edward Albee's Occupant.
Along with Brooks and her son, Bancroft is survived by her mother, two sisters, a daughter-in-law and a grandson.
Based on the best-selling novel by Ann Brashares the story centers on four best friends--Lena (Alexis Bledel) Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) Bridget (Blake Lively) and Carmen (America Ferrera)--who realize that they are about to spend their first summer away from each other. On one last shopping spree they find a pair of jeans that fits all of them odd considering their different body shapes. It must mean the pants are magical and will bring them good luck. So the girls make a pack that each of them will spend one week with the pants and then send them off to the next girl. Lena the shy self-conscious artist who is spending the summer in Greece with her grandparents takes the pants first--and meets the hunky Kostas (Michael Rady). Tibby a rebel "suckumentary" filmmaker who marches to the beat of her own drum gets them next. But as tough as Tibby thinks she is she learns some invaluable life lessons through her chance encounter with an extraordinary girl Bailey (Jenna Boyd). Then it's Bridget's turn a vivacious blonde who spends her summer playing soccer in Mexico and displays some reckless behavior with a hands-off camp coach (Mike Vogel). Finally there's Carmen a spit-fire writer who decides to spend some quality time with her wayward dad. Yet upon arrival she is greeted with a not-so-pleasant surprise when her father (Bradley Whitford) introduces her to his very white-bred fiancé (Nancy Travis) and her two teenage children. These four realize in the end whatever magic there is comes from their enduring friendship.
The ensemble cast of fresh faces makes Sisterhood entirely watchable. Tamblyn of TV's Joan of Arcadia's gives the strongest performance as Tibby. The talented actress really digs in executing perfectly Tibby's tough-on-the-outside-but-a-real-softie-underneath persona. Ferrera best known for her stellar performance in the indie hit Real Women Have Curves is another standout as Carmen a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve especially when she finally confronts her dad about never being there for her. Boyd (The Missing) too is quite affecting as Tibby's new rather outspoken friend harboring a tragic secret of her own.. Newcomer Lively does an adequate job playing Bridget who we think is pretty blonde and carefree but who has really been left with a void after the death of her mother. Had she put in a little more effort though she could have been the star of the show. Only Bledel fails to inspire. Watching her is just like an extended episode of her TV show Gilmore Girls both boring and lackluster. She doesn't seem to stretch herself in any way.
This is every teenage girls story being with the best of friends but also being "afraid of time and not having enough of it." At least this is what author Ann Brashares wanted to convey when she wrote the critically acclaimed hugely popular book. TV director Ken Kwapis understands this; Sisterhood bleeds heart and soul. While the pacing seems to drag a bit and the maudlin factor heighten in parts the movie nonetheless mixes the right amount of comedy tragedy and the difficulties of being 16 on the cusp of adulthood. Sisterhood is also beautifully shot especially the scenes in Greece. Kwapis shows the beauty and history of this magnificent country in a way that makes you want to grab your passport and take a trip there. But being that the movie is already a tad slow even the many picturesque Greek moments seem unnecessary. Sisterhood could have shaved a good half hour to make it a more concise movie.
Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) once a champion thoroughbred trainer and now a mild-mannered Kentucky farmer rescues an abandoned baby zebra and takes him home to his young daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere). Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz) as the adoring Channing calls him grows up on the farm with its misfit troupe of barnyard residents. They include the cantankerous but wise Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) a Shetland pony; Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) a motherly old goat who keeps the farm in line; Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) a skittish hit pelican who's hiding out from Jersey thugs after taking out the wrong bird; and Buzz (voiced by Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (voiced by David Spade) two horseflies with attitude--and an affinity for poop. But Stripes isn't cut out for farm life. Instead he has his sights set on the neighboring racetrack with hopes of running in the race himself--even if he isn't exactly a horse. With a little help from his human and farm animal friends he finally gets his chance. And loses! Oh I'm just kidding.
Although the human actors do an adequate job maintaining the core emotional element of the film especially the sweet-cheeked Panettiere (Raising Helen) it's the animal characters that keep Racing Stripes entertaining. Muniz is earnest enough as the enthusiastic Stripes while the sugary Mandy Moore voices his love interest Sandy a local show jumper horse. Veterans Hoffman who finds his inner horse as the crabby Tucker and Goldberg who does the maternal goat thing very well both handle their animal chores with aplomb. The ever-country hick Jeff Foxworthy and the lackadaisical Snoop Dogg also make vocal appearances as a none-too-bright rooster (are there any other kind?) and lazy bloodhound respectively. But it's Joey Pants as Goose the incompetent gangster pelican on the lam and Spade and Harvey as the quippy espresso-lovin' dung-wallowing horseflies who steal the show.
They always say its hardest to work with animals and children so director Frederik Du Chau (Quest for Camelot) really had his work cut out for him working with real zebras something which has never really been attempted before because of the animal's flighty temperament. Apparently a zebra's nature is rooted in a fight-or-flight response stemming from the fact they are chased by predators in the wild. Makes sense but training them to race around a track? Sounds like a nightmare shoot. Plus Stripes was played by no less than eight different "adolescent" zebras. Yikes. Du Chau pulls it off however. You're sitting there with the best of them cheering our hero on as he runs his big race oblivious to how they made it all happen. Overall it's just too bad that unlike its cousin Babe Racing Stripes has to go for the same tired and cheesy formula of an underdog proving himself rather than creating a tender story of a zebra making his way on a Kentucky horse farm.