Let's get that inevitable comparison of Sigourney Weaver's powerhouse Secretary of State Elaine Barrish in USA's six-part miniseries Political Animals (which premiered last night) to our own powerhouse Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out of the way. Yes, both ran for President and lost the nomination to a younger, more charming candidate; both were former First Ladies whose President husband had notorious extramarital affairs; both are seen as ambitious ball busters; and both can rock a serious power suit.
Still, despite all these obvious nods to Hil, the comparison does a disservice to both women. For just as many similarities as they have, there are stark differences as well (including Weaver's Barrish not having a daughter, but two sons.) But, the biggest difference is that Clinton's story is nowhere near as dull as the one that plays out in Political Animals.
It's a problem that is through no fault of its leading lady. Weaver's ability to work with any kind of material is nothing new. The stunning 62-year-old Oscar-nominated actress, who has been one of Hollywood's most versatile stars for nearly 30 years, only seems to get better with age. But even in Political Animals, which boasts an impressive cast that could carry its own weight if needed (thanks to the likes of James Wolk, Dylan Baker, and fellow Oscar-nominee Ellen Burstyn), Weaver's powerful presence still can't save the mediocre summer soap opera.
When we first meet Elaine Barrish, it's on the night of her concession speech — having lost her bid to the White House to a young, Italian Democrat named Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar) — with her smiling, supportive family by her side. However, it's not until after giving an invigorating, rousing speech in which she vows to American women that she will see a female President in her lifetime, that we really meet them behind closed doors.
And boy, are they one dysfunctional bunch. There's her pair of sons — the gay, drug-addicted, suicidal T.J. (Sebastian Stan), the put-together, politico-in-the-making Douglas (Wolk), and his demure fiance with an eating disorder, Anne (Brittany Ishibashi). There's her boozy, opinionated lightning rod of a mother-in-law (Burstyn) and her husband, former President Bud Hammon (a cartoonish, cigar-chomping Ciaran Hinds.) They all tend to say exactly what's on their mind, often in pay cable-friendly language. Within the first ten minutes, they utilize their place on USA by saying things like "homos," "s**t show," "douche," and "nutsack." So edgy.
Fast forward two years later, a now-divorced Elaine (she promptly asked her husband for a divorce after her concession speech) is down a philandering spouse (who is now dating a busty, vapid television star), but still has plenty of drama in her life. She's got her Pulitzer-winning nemesis Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) as a thorn in her side again when, years after breaking her husband's affair scandal, she inadvertently lets a story about T.J.'s failed suicide go public. (Her own cheating boyfriend/editor, played by Dan Futterman, gives the story to his blogging, cupcake-baking mistress. Oh great, another stunning victory for Internet Girls everywhere.)
Then there's also an ass-grabbing Russian foreign minister ("I will f**k your s**t up," she warns him in his native language) and a hostage situation in Iran with three American journalists to deal with. Still, Barrish manages to handle it all with ass-kicking grace. (If there ever was such a thing to possess, Weaver most certainly does.) By the time she tells a secret service agent in confidence that she's going to run for President again and win, you don't doubt her for one second.
And thankfully, viewers won't have to wait long to find out if that is the case. While Weaver (who might as well make space on her mantle for an Emmy now) makes the whole surprisingly bland thing watchable, the show (which aims for The West Wing, but hits the Dallas target instead) isn't necessarily worthy of her talents. There's no doubt the show will do well, especially as a summer program, considering it has three winning ingredients: graphic sex scenes, oft ludicrous dialogue ("Never call a bitch a bitch. Us bitches hate that"), and it doesn't take up much of your time (six weeks, to be exact.)
Political Animals doesn't quite know what it wants to be, ping-ponging between compelling, girl-power political drama and silly, ineffective family soap opera, but it gets one thing absolutely right: Sigourney Weaver cannot be tamed.
Political Animals airs on Sundays at 10 PM ET on USA.
[Photo credit: USA Network]
A Flawed Newsroom Rewrites History
Finally a brilliantly told fractured fairy tale for children and adults alike that does not feature a grouchy green orge anywhere. Once upon a time a young man sneaks into the mysterious magic kingdom of Stormhold that’s walled off from his quiet English village. He soon meets a lovely young lady who just so happens to be a princess enslaved by a not-so-wicked witch. Nine months later a basket is dropped on his doorstep. Yes this baby boy is the unexpected result of his one-night liasion with the royal lass. The boy grows up blissfully unaware of his regal roots so when he reaches manhood Tristan (Charlie Cox) doesn’t understand why he so drawn to the land on the other side of the Wall. He finally hops over the Wall when a star falls out of the sky and lands deep in the heart of Stormhold. His goal: to bring back the star as proof of his love for Victoria (Sienna Miller). Too bad this scheming temptress doesn’t think too much of the penniless and mild-mannered workingclass stiff. This being a fairy tale the star isn’t just a star. The star’s actually a beautiful celestial being named Yvaine (Claire Danes). And she fell to earth as part of a devious plan by Stormhold’s dying king (Peter O'Toole) to determine his successor. But the king’s scheming sons (Jason Flemying and Mark Strong) are not the only ones seeking Yvaine. The oh-so-wicked witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) needs Yvaine to help her restore her youth. So that means Tristan must become the hero he’s destined to become—and take on witches princes airbourne pirates (Robert De Niro’s Capt. Shakespeare) and shady black marketeers (The Office’s Ricky Gervais)—so he can return home to Victoria. But Cupid has other plans for Tristran and it’s not hard to guess what those are. If all stars took on the human form of Claire Danes many more of us would probably pursue a career in astronomy. But it doesn’t take a working knowledge of the Hubble telescope to see how relaxed and luminous Danes is when she’s not carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. And sparks definitely fly between Danes and Charlie Cox even when they’re at hurling hilarious insults at each other. Newcomer Cox makes a smooth transition from ill-at-ease lovesick puppy to swashbuckling hero. He also doesn’t seem to be intimidated at the prospect of staring down Robert De Niro. There’s always concern whenever De Niro takes on a comedic role for a big paycheck. He usually gets by with pure talent and nothing more. And when De Niro’s pirate crosses paths with Cox and Danes you immediately fear that he’s going to offer yet another variation on his tough gruff Alpha males from Analyze This and Meet the Parents. But he blindsides us by instead going all Jack Sparrow on us—that is if the old sea dog had no interest in the ladies—to deliriously campy effect. What with Hairspray and now Stardust Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback seems to be predicated on getting in touch with her inner bitch. She’s splendidly nasty and scary as Lamia. And the uglier and older she gets the meaner and funnier she gets. Equally cruel—though more cheerfully so—is Sienna Miller. Providing small but amusing cameos are Gervais once again revealing an unparallel mastery of toadying and Peter O'Toole who kicks the bucket quicker than John Cleese’s King Harold does in Shrek the Third. There’s legitimate reason to question whether Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn has what it takes to direct a big-budget effects-driven summer blockbuster. Remember after making his name producing or directing relatively inexpensive British crime capers Vaughn walked away from X-Men: The Last Stand. Judging by Stardust though Vaughn would have done a masterful job leading those misunderstood mutants into battle. Then again he couldn’t have done worse than Brett Ratner. Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess Stardust possesses both a big heart and an uncommon adventurous streak. Unlike the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which was too long and too cumbersome for its own good Stardust moves nimbly and confidently through a strange and wonderful land populated with noble heroes to cheer for fiendish villains to boo at and gorgeous damsels in distress to sigh over. Vaughn keeps us on the edge of our seats whenever Tristan must think or fight his way out of danger. But he invests as much time in making believe that Tristan and Yvaine are made for each other. He also strikes a fine balance between honoring the sword-and-sorcery genre while playfully sending up its many cliches. The humor’s a lot more risqué than the bedtime story that was The Princess Bride but most of the sexual innuendoes will zoom over the heads of those still too young to pick up on many of Shrek’s pop-cultural references. Clearly Stardust cannot escape all other comparisons to The Princess Bride but Stardust boasts more than enough magic and daring-do to win over those who remained enthralled to this day by Cary Elwes’ brave efforts to rescue a kidnapped Robin Wright Penn. So this is one fairy tale that richly deserves its happily ever after--and for that matter so does Vaughn.
Ah the unwanted guest. It’s been the subject of many a movie. You know the kind: Messy doesn’t respect your privacy stops up the toilet has sex with someone in your living room using butter and nearly burns the house down. That’s Dupree (Wilson) to a tee and for newlyweds Carl (Matt Dillon) and Molly (Kate Hudson) having Dupree in their house is downright disastrous. At first Carl is psyched to have his best man as his couch guest while Molly is less than enthused with Dupree’s well-meaning antics. But when Molly starts feeling abandoned by Carl’s workaholic tendencies—as he in turn tries to impress his demanding new father-in-law (Michael Douglas)—suddenly Dupree’s good-natured personality and carefree wisdom is comforting to Molly much to Carl’s chagrin. But don’t fret. This three’s-a-crowd scenario will work out some kind of resolution as the loveable guest shows how a little inner Dupree-“ness” might just be one of life's hidden secrets. With Dupree Wilson is attempting to break away from the buddy comedies he’s known for such as Starsky and Hutch and Wedding Crashers in which he mostly plays the pithy straight man. There are definitely moments of true Wilson brilliance in Dupree especially when he’s avoiding a building security guard by throwing “seven different kinds of smoke” at him. But playing off someone slightly wackier than himself is really Wilson’s forte and in trying to carry a whole comedy on his own he’s not nearly as successful as say Jim Carrey or even Jack Black. It also doesn’t help that Hudson and Dillon aren’t able to pick up the slack. Hudson is appealing as the beleaguered Molly and Dillon seems to be getting better looking with age—but together they are one big ball of bland especially Dillon who is sorely miscast as the straight guy. On the other hand Douglas does a nice turn as the overprotective daddy who can’t let his little girl go. Basically Dupree is Wilson’s big vanity project. As the film’s main producer the funnyman shopped the script by first-timer Mike LeSieur around and got a deal right away—no doubt based on Wilson’s previous moneymaking comedies. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo brothers best known for helming Welcome to Collinwood as well as several episodes of TV’s Arrested Development do the best they can with the Dupree material. But it’s a shame Wilson doesn’t have the same discerning tastes as his frequent collaborator director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums). You Me and Dupree is just well ordinary and no amount of Wilson mad-cap energy and wily antics can raise it up into the comedic stratosphere.
If you have ever been embarrassed by your big loud family then you will certainly relate to Toula (played by Nia Vardalos) the narrator and main character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. After all her suburban home is modeled after the Parthenon and her father (played by Michael Constantine) believes a squirt of Windex can cure anything--including bursitis--and that every word in the English language derives from a Greek root. At 30 Toula is still living at home and kowtowing to her strict father--who believes that every Greek woman's ambition should be to marry a Greek man have Greek children and feed everyone until she dies. Suffice it to say he is less than happy when Toula becomes engaged to Ian (played by John Corbett)--a non-Greek. What ensues is a hilarious tale of what happens when two families--one loud Greek Orthodox the other conservative Episcopalian--must reconcile their differences for the sake of their children's happiness. Vardalos' narration of the events that are occurring--and how she feels about them--helps draw the viewer into Toula's world.
Vardalos is great as Toula and presents her character's traits and peculiarities fittingly well like her low self-esteem and the way she slouches. More importantly Vardalos made Toula's character believable. When Toula begins taking classes at a local college her confidence improves she puts on a little makeup combs her hair and voila! She's transformed into a beautiful person oozing happiness. It's quite charming. Corbett is well cast as the sweet and accepting fiancé but he comes across as a little bland. That really dated haircut certainly doesn't win him any points either. Constantine as Toula's strict father is chauvinistic and thick-headed but he plays his cards just right so you can never really hate the character straight out even though he treats his wife and kids like a Neanderthal would. As Aunt Voula Andrea Martin is by far the most hilarious of the bunch and she delivers each line with zany conviction. For all you 'N Sync fans Joey Fatone has a small role as Toula's cousin and has maybe three lines in the film.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is based on comedy writer Vardalos' one-woman show. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson saw the show and apparently liked it so much they decided to produce it through their Playtone studio. Directed by Joel Zwick the film is not the first to deal with big weddings and what happens when too many family members get involved. Ang Lee did it better with the 1993 romantic comedy The Wedding Banquet about a gay Taiwanese-American man who marries a young Chinese woman to satisfy his parents as did Mira Nair with last year's Monsoon Wedding about an arranged Indian marriage. But Zwick who has directed a slew of TV shows from Happy Days to The Wayans Brothers keeps things fresh and funny despite the tired storyline. Set in Chicago but filmed in Toronto the film feels authentic especially the scenes in the family's diner Dancing Zorbas their house and their neighborhood. But the movie could have done without the cartoonish old-world granny with anti-Turkish sentiment.