The stars of Downton Abbey beat their show back to the states. PBS will begin airing season four of the phenomenon on Jan. 5, but a few residents of the big house were on hand at a PBS event in New York City on Tuesday to preview the new episodes for some superfans. Superfans with impeccable restraint, if they've steered clear of downloads. The Dowager would be proud.
After a screening of the first 40 minutes of episode one, the cast took the stage with executive producers Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame. The discussion was plagued by lazy questions from moderator Bill Carter (just because you work for The New York Times doesn't mean you don't have to do your homework). Six months have passed since the gut-wrenching twist at the end of season three, and there's plenty more to talk about than how gosh darn uncomfortable those costumes must be.
Still, we managed to get some scoop. Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) reminded us that his character means well, but remains "a beat behind the action" in terms of social change. Michelle Dockery hinted that the widowed Lady Mary will have several suitors pursuing her this year, and pointed out that many fans think Branson (Allen Leech) should be among them. Speaking of love connections, Phyllis Logan gave some hope to those who'd like to see Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson get together: "She has great affection for him." When asked if Lady Edith will finally catch a break this season, Laura Carmichael struggled to give a spoiler-free answer. But we're guessing the answer is no. Lesley Nicol is still lobbying for Mrs. Patmore to get a boyfriend. And clear audience favorite Rob-James Collier reassured us that Thomas won't stop scheming anytime soon. Thomas has been told by society that he's an abomination, and so he meets those expectations. "As Eminem once said," Collier quoted, "I am whatever you say I am." Barrow is a 1920s Eminem. It all makes sense now.
Merging Serpico with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy Pride and Glory details an extremely complicated investigation into the gunning down of four New York City cops after an attempted drug bust goes terribly wrong. With increasingly bad PR and an apparent cop killer still at large the Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) assigns his son Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) to lead the probe. The younger Tierney is reluctant since he knows all four cops served under his brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). Ray’s instincts may be right because as he digs deeper he discovers an awkward and uncomfortable connection between Francis Jimmy and the case. Could his own family have been involved in an inside job and tipped off the drug dealers? Soon Ray finds himself having to choose between the greatest moral dilemma of all: loyalty to the job or loyalty to his family. Although Pride and Glory doesn’t break any new ground and is composed of elements we’ve seen in many previous films dealing with police corruption this film is distinguished by some of the finest work in the storied careers of many of its cast. Norton follows up his summer comic-book movie The Incredible Hulk with a far smaller and more focused character in P&G playing a man caught in a moral bind facing the unthinkable prospect of going after his own family members. Norton wears his ticklish predicament on his face and is enormously effective conveying pure angst. Emmerich (Little Children) delivers a rich portrayal of a tortured soul not only caught up in an intense investigation but dealing with a wife (Jennifer Ehle) dying of cancer. Farrell is better than he has been in some time playing a shady officer who seemingly will stop at nothing to get what he needs. Voight as the proud family patriarch and veteran of the NYPD clearly understands the dilemma of this man who is watching his family torn apart. Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor has spent a frustrating couple of years trying to bring this story to the screen but his perseverance pays off. Pride and Glory is a well-written cop tale that co-exists as an interesting character study about the power of family ties vs. personal pride. O’Connor manages to put us right in the center of the moral conflict at the heart of his story and with several first-rate actors (even in the lesser roles) crafts a film that seems authentic to its core. Incorporating Declan Quinn’s in-your-face realistic cinematography O’Connor resists going for a more obvious audience-pleasing flashier style achieving a look and feel that seems more grounded in the milieu he’s trying to capture. His script co-written with Joe Carnahan (who wrote and directed the equally gritty Narc) is tight and unsympathetic slowly letting layers of a very intricate and complex story peel away to reveal a core that packs a punch right to the gut.
In other words The Holiday probably falls under the “guilty pleasure” category. Its not a classic romantic comedy by any standards but darn it it still makes you smile more often than you want to admit. The story centers on two women: Iris (Kate Winslet) a British newspaper columnist hopelessly in love with a man about to marry someone else and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) a highly successful L.A. career woman who just broke up with her latest cheating boyfriend. Being at the right place at the right time these two gals meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Shortly after arriving at their destinations both women find the last thing either wants or expects: A new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris' handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) and Iris with inspiration provided by legendary screenwriter Arthur (Eli Wallach) mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles (Jack Black). Oh just go ahead and take a big gooey bite. It’s good for the soul. The biggest problem in The Holiday is unfortunately the casting—which is real shame because you really want the chemistry to zing. They get it right with Winslet and Law who are both trying something a little different as romantic leads. Winslet in fact admitted to Reuters this was one of the more nerve-wracking parts she’s ever played because she couldn’t hide behind an American accent or a costume playing someone closer to well herself. But you would think these two Oscar-nominees had been making these type movies all along especially the insanely gorgeous Law who should have every woman swooning with his sensitivity. Where they get it wrong is with the Americans as the Brits just act giant circles around them. Black is clearly out of place. Although being very charming and funny looking like he made Winslet laugh a LOT (and who wouldn’t with that guy around?) their connection on screen is somewhat amiss. Diaz comes off looking even worse. Even though she’s the veteran of the romantic comedy (There's Something About Mary My Best Friend's Wedding) her screechy neurotic klutzy Amanda is in no way appealing. You have to scratch your head wondering why Law’s Graham would fall so hard for her. What does make The Holiday work however is writer/director Nancy Meyers. She’s proven herself quite adept at the genre with films such as What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give under her belt. With The Holiday Meyers skillfully crafts individual moments of refreshing comedy as well as heartening scenes of blossoming romance. The initial seduction scene between Amanda and Graham is particularly sweet and quirky with the crisp dialogue flying at a nice clip. And isn’t it comforting to see a holiday movie minus feuding neighbors commerciality or any sort of mean-spiritedness? But Meyers has the tendency to go more for the superficial rather than dig deep with her characters. The Holiday has a one of those glossy rosy glows whose only aim is to make you feel good. True the film will mostly speak volumes to the women in the audience (that’s a polite way of saying its a “chick flick”) but oh well. It’s fluff may be a nice reprieve during the hustle and bustle of the season.
There should be a rule stating if a movie has already won the Academy Award for Best Picture it should never EVER be remade at a later time no matter who is involved. Why mess with a good thing? The 1949 All the King's Men based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren starred Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark a 1950s Louisiana politician who uses fiery rhetoric to get the poor folk to elect him as governor but who becomes corrupt in the process and is eventually assassinated. The story is loosely based on the real-life legendary 1930s Louisiana governor Huey P. Long and the original film adaptation was equally brazen and subtle wonderfully executed and won three Oscars including the top prize. But apparently the original wasn’t as authentic as this current incarnation. This time Sean Penn stars as our prime filibuster who tries to keep things lively but gets bogged down by the muddled subplots especially the one involving Stark’s PR guy Jack Burden (Jude Law) and his relationships with his very Southern godfather (Anthony Hopkins) and childhood friends (Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo). Yawn. With a cast like this it’s no wonder King's Men got remade. Penn clearly stands out of course. How could he not? His Willie Stark is the only thing sparking anything close to life in the film. But with the part such as it is Penn also tends to unnecessarily chew up scenery while everyone stands around him in a wilting repose. Law—once again narrating the proceedings (must he do this in ALL his films?)—tries to embody a character who really doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about anything except being Stark’s beck and call boy even after all the horrible things Stark makes him do to the people he supposedly loves. Winslet as Jack’s unrequited childhood love Ruffalo as her put-upon brother and Hopkins as a former judge who stands in Stark’s way to success are all just completely wasted. As is Patricia Clarkson as Stark’s campaign manager and mistress Sadie Burke who was so brilliantly played by the Oscar-winning Mercedes McCambridge in the 1949 original. Whatever happened in translation is surely not Clarkson fault. Come on guys you’ve got a powerhouse crew here. Why fritter them away? Apparently redoing All the King's Men has been a dream project of political pundit James Carville one of the film’s producers for some time. He has dabbled here and there in the entertainment industry especially in the riveting documentary The War Room so periodically through the years Carville would mention to filmmakers in passing how he had a passion for Robert Penn Warren’s novel and how deeply he wanted to see it filmed authentically. Lo and behold someone finally listened and a new King's Men was underway helmed by writer/director Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) with an all-star cast. Filming on location in New Orleans and the outlying areas of Louisiana just before Hurricane Katrina hit Zaillian provides the faithfulness Carville was looking for. But did anyone at any time ask the question “Why are we doing this movie again when it was already done so well?” I repeat it was a Best Picture winner for chrissakes. And now remaking it into a giant snore-fest just ruins the mystique. Sometimes they just don’t get it.
It’s Christmas Eve in Wichita--the Las Vegas of Kansas--and there’s a mystery (with scant comedy) unfolding: Charlie (John Cusack) a disgruntled attorney and frequent strip-joint patron and his unsavory associate Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have just embezzled $2 million from Charlie’s mob boss. But they have grown skeptical of one another natch. Also factoring into the equation is Charlie’s undying lust for strip-club owner Renata (Connie Nielsen) with whom he plans to escape once the ice on the roads melts. But she’ll only flee with him if he’s a million bucks richer which leads him back to Vic to sort everything out once and for all. Charlie’s final dealings with Vic lead them both down some slippery roadways but the ice does indeed melt. The only question: Who’ll be fleeing with whom once it does? The lead actors in Harvest are a bit miscast. Cusack’s droll demeanor is utilized once again but ad nauseam. His Charlie ends up being more confused than endearing further highlighting the film’s lack of clarity. Thornton shows promise and continues to fine tune his skills at dark comedy. But his role is limited leaving you wanting more especially since he’s being touted as one of the film’s main selling points. And Oliver Platt--who plays Charlie’s belligerent drinking buddy--has his funny moments but is ultimately too erratic and uncertain in a part tailor-made for indie darling Philip Seymour Hoffman. There is an exception in Harvest from we-didn’t-know-he-could-do-that Randy Quaid. Although he appears late in the film as the merciless bloated mob boss who has just been robbed of several million dollars the actor is entirely memorable. It’s usually tough to successfully mix noir sensibilities with comedy. Director Harold Ramis deserves praise for his bravery and departure but he should’ve simply stuck with his own tried-and-true comedy formula that has guided his career so well. Of course the director’s clout affords him some big-name actors for offbeat roles a prime holiday release date and a script that probably was once quirkily gorgeous. But they’re square pegs now to be put into round holes. The cinematography is wasted which is unfortunate since it nicely underscores the bitterly cold and distant Midwest. The Ice Harvest just proves to be another element foreign to Ramis’ fans who likely covered their eyes and ears when Robert De Niro yelled in Ramis’ Analyze This.