Bond 23 is racking up a pretty formidable cast. Bond films aren't always chock full of big name actors, but it's quite likely that the attachment of Sam Mendes, who employs the unique habit of making movies that are good, as director has inspired some confidence in the quality of the project.
Of course, Daniel Craig is returning as James Bond. News earlier this month confirmed that the shadowmonster Javier Bardem will be playing the most horrifying Bond villain to date, teamed with the more scary-in-the-Jafar-way Ralph Feinnes as a co-villain (or perhaps a rival villain? Villainy is confusing). Plus, Judi Dench revives her M-anessence, and a whole bunch of stage actors find their way into the project, as well. The latest: Albert Finney is signing on as a high ranking BFO official.
Finney has one of those long, varied careers that sort of flow by us, slightly under the radar, without demanding much flash or spotlight. But when you actually take a second to consider them, you realize that they're far more sophisticated and impressive than those of many of the stars with whom we're more familiar.
The actor is also reviving his Bourne Ultimatum role in the upcoming Bourne Legacy. Over the years, Finney has played Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Lysander, Daddy Warbucks, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Ed Masry and Kilgore Trout. Also, some original characters, too. The already promising Bond 23 is lucky to have an actor of this magnitude.
The romantic action comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like nothing — and if you’re a person between the age of approximately 18 to 35 everything — you’ve seen before. British director Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead Hot Fuzz) adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel is so densely laden with pop-culture references it often times feels less like a movie than a mixtape. Those who share the tastes of the film’s 31-year-old writer and 35-year-old director will find the experience to be exhilarating; those who don’t however will likely be at a loss to comprehend what all the fuss is about.
The list of ‘80s and ‘90s video game nods in Pilgrim alone is daunting: Tekken Super Mario Bros. Tetris Zelda and even retro titles like Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man are represented just to name a few. To fit all of it in Wright must practically invent a brand-new kind of filmmaking. Using techniques and iconography culled from the holy fanboy triumvirate of comic books video games and anime/manga and armed with a clearly generous effects budget he splatters the screen with a dazzling array of CGI visual aids as the action unfolds: informational pop-ups supply key details on each character as they are introduced; words like “Boom!” and “Pow!” burst forth when blows are landed during fight sequences; a “Level Up!” graphic indicating increased levels of key character attributes appears after the film’s hero triumphs in battle. Even the old Universal Studios logo has been revamped by Wright rendered in the rudimentary graphics and sound of the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Call it easter-egg filmmaking.
At the center of this digital maelstrom is Scott Pilgrim a 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif played by 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif Michael Cera. Unemployed and in no great rush to find work he splits his time evenly between jamming with his middling band Sex Bob-Omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference) combing thrift shops for new additions to his near-limitless collection of ironic t-shirts and pining for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a beguiling New York City emigre whose signature attribute is her constantly-changing hair color.
After a few abortive encounters Scott finally gets Ramona to reciprocate his affections. Thus begins the quest — or "campaign " as gamers call it — portion of the film as Scott soon discovers that in order to secure Ramona’s hand he must defeat each of her seven evil exes (six boys and one girl) in spontaneous death matches of decreasing novelty. (A few of them could easily have been excised without harming the narrative but that might invite the ire of comic book fans who typically demand nothing less than absolute adherence to the source text.) With a variety of found power-ups and an entirely implausible collection of fancy kung-fu moves he faces off against among others a pompous vegan straight-edge (Brandon Routh) a self-absorbed action star (Chris Evans) a spiteful lesbian (Mae Whitman) and a smarmy record producer (Jason Schwartzman).
I expect Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will polarize audiences and not just because of Wright’s distinctively dizzying directorial style. (Which I thoroughly enjoyed even though it occasionally overdoses on manufactured quirk and is a bit too proud of its cleverness.) The film glosses over Scott and Ramona’s wooing process in its rush to commence with its succession of comic-book battles which grow somewhat tedious toward the end. It’s simply assumed that Ramona would fall for our protagonist as it’s likewise assumed that we already have. But not everyone will embrace Scott’s castrati hipster affect which too often comes across as grating rather than charming. (The movie’s funniest moments come courtesy of Scott’s sassy gay roommate played by Kieran Culkin who is never without a clever barb for his lovelorn pal.) And beneath Cera’s self-effacing sheen exists an unmistakable whiff of pretentiousness that isn’t entirely justified — at least not yet. Far less debatable is the appeal of Winstead whose spunky Ramona appears every bit worth the hassle of fending off seven or more ex-lovers.
God knows what she sees in him.
As a disposable Harrison Ford vehicle Firewall is part Hostage part Catwoman. Physical violence is pervasive as Ford and his family (including Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen) are taken hostage by a band of thugs. Silver-haired Ford plays Jack Stanfield a computer-programming expert whose bank account accrues an unexplained $95 000 debt. Before he investigates a trio of men invade his house and rough up Jack’s wife (Madsen) daughter (Carly Schroeder) and son (Jimmy Bennett). At the same time a businessman (Paul Bettany) shows up at Jack’s office unannounced. A whole bunch of confusing stuff follows in which Jack must get his family back keep a low profile and not tell the police. After extorting $100 million from his company for ransom Jack tracks the bad guys down by finding the family dog’s whereabouts via Internet satellite dog collar. Bettany a real S.O.B. poisons the young son with a chocolate bar with nuts. It’s not clear why Ford and company chose to do Firewall. The script seems quite vacuous on the page and the actors’ onscreen excitement (or lack of) is palpable. Ford is brooding and frigid in the lead role. Madsen in her first role since Sideways is marginalized in the mother-hen role her earthiness underplayed. Bettany who starred in Firewall director Richard Loncraine’s previous Wimbledon is cartoon-like as a menacing hit man. Bettany reels off lines reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Catwoman. Ten-year-old Jimmy Bennett has become the go-to Hollywood kid for being pushed around in a mainstream movie (Amityville Horror Hostage). In Firewall he’s shoved poisoned and has his mouth is taped. Just another day’s work. Loncraine’s 30 plus-year directing résumé doesn’t have a whole lot of good films on it. He’s a British director with touches of aristocratic long-windedness whose best movies include Richard III with Ian McKellen and the 2002 HBO Winston Churchill biopic The Gathering Storm. Firewall is a Hollywood product stylized around action sequences bad dialogue and a persistent background soundtrack. None of Firewall's characters make an audience connection. Ford is prone to muddled logic and aloofness. Bettany as the lovably nefarious villain should have been a lot more lovable. I’m going to shift the blame of these two proven actors’ performances to Loncraine’s direction which given his history likely deserves it. References to Internet technology though presumably sound come off as jargon and white noise. The ensuing mess is a computer-code chase that doesn’t add up to much--and doesn’t whet an appetite for Harrison Ford’s upcoming Indiana Jones 4.
The mood was somber and celebrity little more than a means to an end when tonight's telethon, America: A Tribute to Heroes, was shown on every major network and most of the major cable channels. There was no audience applauding; there was no audience, period, except those at home. There were no introductions; that wasn't the point, as celebrity speakers made clear throughout the night by telling the stories of the many heroes who lost their lives and saved the lives of others.
To commemorate Sept. 11, a day that could easily be thought of as "the day the music died," talented and famous faces came together for an evening of songs, stories, and yes, the occasional call for contributions.
The speeches tonight came in all varieties, all impassioned, some tearful, others awkward. A clearly nervous Jim Carrey spoke of Winston Churchill, then told the story of heroes who saved a woman by carrying her down 68 flights of stairs. George Clooney spoke of John Perry, a New York City policeman who'd filed his retirement papers the morning of Sept. 11, but heard of the tragedy and went to help. He never came back, Clooney said.
Cameron Diaz told stories of teachers who saved children at schools near the World Trade Center. Robin Williams talked of a hero who'd saved lives in the 1993 bombing and again this time, only last Tuesday he didn't make it out himself. Jimmy Smits spoke of police heroes, "cops who are willing to sacrifice their lives in an instant, for people they do not know." Julia Roberts spoke tearfully of heroes at the Pentagon, and the flying of the flag and the applause that greeted it.
Kelsey Grammer, who lost a co-worker aboard one of the flights that crashed, quoted words of strength from John F. Kennedy. Clint Eastwood talked gruffly of a day that would live in infamy.
Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Calista Flockhart, Conan O'Brien, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ray Romano, Jane Kaczmarek, Sela Ward, Chris Rock and Dennis Franz also spoke.
With some of the biggest names in music on the bill, America: A Tribute to Heroes was bound to be good. Bruce Springsteen opened with a candlelit acoustic performance of "My City of Ruins." Willie Nelson closed the two-hour event with "God Bless America," backed by an all-star cast of celebs who had been manning the phones all night. Does it get any better than that? Cut the album; give the proceeds to charity. We're there.
Of course, there were those who pointed out the reason for the event in their songs. Stevie Wonder, who followed The Boss, sang, "Love's in Need of Love Today," with the rather pointed line, "Don't delay, send yours in right away." Wyclef Jean's version of "Redemption Song" was peppered with cries of "Brooklyn" and "New York City" and "we've got to full-fill that book," which he sang while pointing to the phone bank.
The much-maligned Mariah Carey sang the only song she could under the circumstances, "Hero," of which she said, "When I wrote this song," she said, "it had a lot of meaning for me, and tonight it has even more meaning." Well said.
U2 appeared from London. Billy Joel tossed off a powerful rendition of "New York State of Mind" with a firefighter's helmet perched atop the piano. Faith Hill, Enrique Iglasias, Alicia Keys, a bearded and shaggy Tom Petty (with requisite Heartbreakers), a cowboy-hatted Neil Young performed as well. The Dixie Chicks were spot on, and Dave Matthews did an impressive solo acoustic tune.
Jon Bon Jovi did "Living on a Prayer"; Sting dedicated his performance of "Fragile" to a friend who died in the attacks. Sheryl Crow performed, and Paul Simon sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, James Woods, Meg Ryan, Cuba Gooding Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Ben Stiller, Penelope Cruz, Danny DeVito, Halle Berry, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Benicio Del Toro, Cindy Crawford, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, Sally Field and other famous faces were seen answering phones at the telethon bank or singing backing vocals on the finale of "God Bless America."
The stars also took the time to make a point about the evils of racism and hate. Several Arab children spoke of the tragedy and its affect on their lives, then Will Smith appeared on stage, with Muhammad Ali, whom he'll be portraying in the forthcoming Ali.
"It was hate, not religion that motivated the attacks," Smith said.
Then Ali spoke. "I'm here because of the troublin' thing that happened the other day. I'm a Muslim, and I've been a Muslim for 20 years…. I think people should know the real truth about Islam. You know me, I'm a boxer…and a man of truth, and I wouldn't be here defending Islam if it was really like the terrorists made it look…. Islam is peace."
Later in the show, Lucy Liu said "America's greatest enemy is hatred itself."
The telethon was Hollywood's effort to generate contributions for the September 11th Telethon Fund, which is administered by the United Way and guaranteed to be distributed 100% to the victims of the terrorist attacks on America last week and their families.