Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.
The movie star and his journalist father Nick visited Darfur in 2008 and shot a film chronicling the atrocities of genocide there for unaware Americans, and now Clooney has returned to the nation in the hope of raising awareness of a coming storm of conflict.
The Southern Sudanese will vote for independence in January (10) and that's likely to split Africa's largest country in two, and prompt a north-south war - something Clooney and United Nations officials are keen to avoid.
Speaking to TV news reporter Ann Curry, who is accompanying Clooney on his trip back to the Sudan, the actor says, "If you knew a tsunami, or (Hurricane) Katrina or a Haiti earthquake was coming, what would you do to save people?"
The movie star has reportedly spent the past week traveling to remote, conflict-prone areas of Sudan's south, including a mass grave and the ruins of the town of Abyei, which was largely burned to the ground during a conflict in 2008.
The movie star, who moved to New Orleans shortly after the horror of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was so appalled by the devastation he saw all around him in the city, he set up the Make it Right foundation and began persuading his architect friends to get involved in helping the homeless.
Five years later, he's getting closer to realising his dream of building 150 homes, which will withstand another fierce storm and keep the costs down for struggling families - and even he can't believe how well the job is going.
Speaking to U.S. newsman Brian Williams as part of a new TV documentary to mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Pitt says, "These homes are elevated above Katrina flood waters, they are stronger; they'll take a category four (hurricane)... so none of these homeowners will suffer those horrors (of Katrina).
"Last month, these homes, every one of them but one was producing more energy than they were eating; that's an amazing story."
And the actor hopes his efforts and those of the eco-architects he's working with will provide a template for those building houses for struggling families: "There's no reason now to build any other way."
Oil bosses and experts spent over 100 days trying to fix the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, but Clarkson insists too little was done too late, and she's heartbroken by the tragedy, ruled America's worst environmental disaster.
Clarkson was optimistic after the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged her home city of New Orleans, but she admits it's tough to smile through the latest wave of misfortune to hit the area.
She tells BlackBook magazine, "I've never seen anything like it. The wildlife that has been killed will never come back.
"The CEOs... at BP need to pay for this, and I hope they pay their entire lives."
The 90210 star is a longterm supporter of the St. Bernard Project, which provides relief for survivors of the 2005 natural disaster.
They desperately needed funds to build a wellbeing centre in the Louisiana city, and McCord entered them into a Pepsi Refresh Celebrity Challenge for a $250,000 prize.
And she was delighted to discover on Thursday (02Sep10) that they had triumphed in the vote.
In a post on her Twitter page, she writes, "WE WON!!!! WE WON!! THANK YOU PEPSI REFRESH!!! @SIMONHUCK I LOVE YOU!! @stbernardproj Won $250k thks to all of you amazing ppl (people) voting!"
The celebrity couple was in the city to support the St. Bernard Project, which provides relief for survivors of the 2005 disaster.
McCord has been on a fundraising mission for the charity recently, urging her Twitter.com followers to vote for the organisation to win the latest Pepsi Refresh Celebrity Challenge, which could land the project a $250,000 (£156,250) grant to build a wellbeing centre in the city.
And the 90210 star proved her dedication to the cause by taking boyfriend Lutz, along with her sister Angel, with her to New Orleans for a house building project.
In a post on his Twitter.com page, Lutz writes, "I'm here all weekend and we have a building goal of around the clock building five houses in seven days ending tomorrow on the 5th anniversary (of Hurricane Katrina)."
The New Orleans Saints emerged victorious in the play-off final against the Indianapolis Colts back in February (10) and football officials will document the team's road to success in a new film titled America's Game: 2009 New Orleans Saints.
Pitt has been a fervent supporter of New Orleans since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, founding a charity to help build houses for displaced families - and now he's stepped in to help out with the documentary.
The film will air in America on 8 September (10) - the day before the Saints begin their defence of the title.
Previous National Football League (NFL) documentaries about Super Bowl winners have been voiced by stars including Alec Baldwin, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis.
The Hollywood actor was handed the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2010 Primetime Emmy Awards show to honour his use of television to help good causes.
Clooney has long been involved with humanitarian causes and has been a major figure in raising awareness of the genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur, as well as helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina and hosting the Hope for Haiti TV telethon - which is also nominated for an Emmy.
The star was presented with the prestigious prize by his former ER onscreen flame Julianna Margulies, and took to the stage to a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd.
And he took his moment in the spotlight to urge the media to put the plights of disaster victims on the front pages instead of headline-grabbing celebrities.
He said, "It's important to remember how much good can get done because we live in such strange times where bad behaviours suck up all the attention in the press and the people who really need the spotlight, the Haitians, the Sudanese, the people in the Gulf Coast... Pakistan, they can't get any (press)."
Lightening the mood with a laugh, he continued: "I thought maybe there was a way to combine the two. I offered to go to the South Sudan and have a wardrobe malfunction, but it was pointed out to me that I'm 49 and it would just be upsetting and kind of sad."
But Clooney was quick to get back to the point, emphasising the importance of his appeal: "The truth is when a disaster happens, everybody wants to help. Everybody in this room wants to help, everybody at home wants to help. The hard part is part is seven months later, five years later, when we're on to a new story. And honestly, we fail at that most of the time. That's the fact. I failed at that. So here's hoping that some very bright person right here in the room or at home watching can help find a way to keep the spotlight burning on these heartbreaking situations that continue to be heartbreaking long after the cameras go away. That would be an impressive accomplishment."
Clooney follows in the footsteps of Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and Danny Thomas, who have all been awarded the prize in previous years.
The Oscar winner joined politicians, educators and school supporters for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Warren Easton Charter High School on Sunday (29Aug10).
The free, full-service medical and dental clinic is scheduled to open this autumn (10).
Her appearance coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which devastated the coastal regions of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.
Bullock previously donated money to help restore Easton, the city's oldest public high school, which was flooded with nine feet (2.7 metres) of water when the storm hit land.
The Hollywood actor helped found the Make It Right project, which has built 34 eco-friendly houses in an area which was completely devastated by the storm in September 2005.
Pitt went back to New Orleans on Friday (27Aug10) to tour the completed buildings and admits he felt overwhelmed to see families living in the community.
He tells NBC's Nightly News show, "It's not mine, it's theirs. I see them having barbecues out in the (backyards) and I'm just thrilled.
"I can take credit for sitting down with the community first (before the government), and I can take credit for bringing in some really smart people and hooking them up with the families here."
Country star Faith Hill performed a free show in the city on Tuesday (24Aug10) to support the rebuilding efforts and actress Sandra Bullock is due to cut the ribbon on a new $700,000 (£466,667) health clinic in New Orleans which she helped fund.