As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
Top Story: Bennifer's Wedding Set
Ben Affleck and his honey Jennifer Lopez are apparently still headed towards marital bliss. Us Weekly and New York Daily News reported Wednesday the couple have named the date Sept. 14 to get hitched. The Daily News reports the exact location is a secret, but it quoted an unidentified source familiar with the plans as saying the nuptials will take place on a hillside "maybe at a winery," near Santa Barbara, Calif. The article also said to keep the plans closely under wraps, about 400 guests were invited by phone last week and were told details would be hand-delivered four days before the wedding.
Schwarzenegger "Egged" On
What's a little egg tossing between friends? Arriving at a gubernatorial campaign rally at California State University, Long Beach, Wednesday, candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger was pelted with an egg that splattered on his tan jacket, Reuters reports. The actor seemed unconcerned, taking the jacket off and continuing to shake hands with the crowd. He quipped later to reporters, "This guy owes me bacon now."
Vandals Deface Hogwarts Express
The steam train used to take Harry Potter and his friends to Hogwarts, the school of wizardry and witchcraft, in the hit Harry Potter films has been covered with graffiti by vandals, causing nearly $5,000 worth of damage, the London newspaper The Sun reports. "It's just a shame Harry is not around at the moment to turn them into frogs," one worker from the station yard told The Sun. When the train is not being used in the Potter movies, it carries tourists between the seaside resort of Scarborough and York, Reuters reports.
Welch Breaks Arm in Car Accident
Actress Raquel Welch broke her arm in a car collision, her publicist told The Associated Press Wednesday. Welch was driving alone Saturday in Century City, Calif., when the accident occurred. "She's OK, she fractured her arm in several places and is in pain," publicist Jill Bushinsky told AP. No one else was injured, Bushinsky added.
Raymond Reruns Beat Reality
Reruns of CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond beat out debuts of reality shows Temptation Island on Fox and Race to the Altar on NBC in the Neilsen ratings for the week of Aug. 25-31, the AP reports. CBS won the week, averaging 8 million viewers followed by NBC ( 7 million); ABC (6.3 million); Fox (5.2 million); the WB (2.4 million) and UPN (2.2 million). The top 10 shows were: Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation CBS; CSI: Miami, CBS; NFL Football: Indianapolis vs. Denver, ABC; Law & Order, NBC; The King of Queens, CBS; Without a Trace, CBS; Big Brother 4, CBS; 60 Minutes, CBS; For Love or Money 2, NBC.
Universal Music Slashes Prices
In order to battle the growing problem of music piracy and woo consumers, Universal Music Group has decided to cut the price of their wholesale CDs, pushing for a $12.98 retail cap, AP reports. The music recording giant hopes other retailers will follow suit and help increase industrywide music sales, which has dropped a debilitating 31 percent over the last three years. "Our new pricing model will enable U.S. retailers to offer music at a much more appealing price point in comparison to other entertainment products," Jim Urie, president of Universal Music & Video Distribution told AP. "We are confident this pricing approach will drive music fans back into retail stores." The price change will be put into effect Oct. 1.
Juanes Tops Latin Grammy Awards
Colombian singer Juanes won five Latin Grammys Wednesday night including album, record and song of the year for his album Un Dia Normal (A Normal Day). Other winners included Olga Tanon for best pop vocal album by a female and David Bisbal for best new artist. The ceremony was a mix of American and Latin American pop sounds with performances by Juanes, Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and Thalia along with rap group Black Eyed Peas and American Idol Kelly Clarkson.
Sundance Introduces New Film Series
Robert Redford and the Sundance Channel have announced the launch of a new Sundance film series, developed as another extension of the Sundance mission to support and expose the work of independent artists. Some upcoming titles include The Other Side of the Bed (Aug. 29), In This World (opening Sept. 19), Dopamine (opening Oct. 10) and Die Mommie Die! (opening Oct. 31).
Role Call: Pinkett Smith Cruises
Jada Pinkett Smith is in negotiations to join the cast of the new thriller Collateral starring Tom Cruise. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cruise plays a contract killer who forces a taxicab driver (Jamie Foxx) to chauffeur him around on a series of hits. Pinkett Smith would star as the love interest of Foxx's character. Val Kilmer also recently signed onto the project, playing a detective on Cruise's heels.
Top Story: Polanski, Eminem Give Thanks
Exiled director Roman Polanski feels honored by winning the Best Director Oscar for his Holocaust drama The Pianist, Reuters reports. "I am deeply touched to have received the Oscar for best director for a film which recounts events which are so close to my personal experience, events which helped me to understand that art can transcend pain," Polanski said Tuesday in a brief statement. "I thank the members of the Academy with all my heart for this magnificent reward." Meanwhile, the evening's other no-show was Best Song winner Eminem, aka Marshall Mathers, who won for his "Lose Yourself" from the film 8 Mile. The Associated Press reports a spokesman for the rapper said Eminem was surprised by the win, but that he is "always thankful when the work he puts into his music is recognized by others."
In More Eminem News…
As hot as Eminem is after his Oscar win, the sales from the DVD version of his debut film 8 Mile is even hotter. According to Variety, buyers spent more than $75 million on the Universal Studios Home Video release, the most ever for an R-rated film in the first week and among the top 10 overall.
NBC, Bravo Snap Up Chicago
Wasting no time, NBC and sister network Bravo have purchased the rights to Best Picture winner Chicago, Variety reports. Details of the deal weren't fully revealed but Variety states Miramax Films will pocket about $13 million, far less than the benchmark of 15 percent of domestic box office, which indicates a winning network sale. Chicago has grossed $134.1 million so far.
P. Diddy Rekindles Love With Ex-Girlfriend
Looking for a little love in his life, Sean "P.Diddy" Combs has reconciled with his former girlfriend and mother of his youngest son, model Kim Porter, even after their bitter child-support battle that was settled in 2002. "My love life is straight. I'm back with Kim," the rap mogul told People magazine in its March 31 issue.
Rowling Has Her Own Little Harry
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and husband Neil Murray welcomed their first child, a son, David Gordon Rowling Murray, Sunday in Scotland, Reuters reports. Rowling has a 10-year-old daughter from her first marriage.
Will & Grace "Just Jack" Lawsuit Settled
Will the real Jack please stand up? A lawsuit filed against Will & Grace writer Jason "Max" Mutchnick by his friend, interior designer Jack Deamer, claiming Deamer was the model for Sean Hayes' character Jack McFarland has been settled out of court, Reuters reports. The suit states Mutchnick, who patterned the TV Jack after Deamer, had promised to buy the real Jack a house and a car if the show were to become a hit.
Miss Mass. is Miss USA
Speaking of frivolity, the age-old beauty pageant Miss USA crowned Miss Massachusetts Susie Castillo as 2003's reigning beauty. Castillo, 23, of Lawrence, Mass., takes the crown from Shauntay Hinton, who represented the District of Columbia in last year's event. AP reports Castillo, an office manager and model, will be America's candidate in the Miss Universe pageant in June in Panama City, Panama.
Welcome to the British Empire at the turn of the century. Meet a group of jolly lads who are about to be shipped off to the Sudan to fight for queen and country. Say hello to Lieutenant Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger). He's a chicken--in the cowardly sense not the egg-laying feathered sense--and when he resigns his commission with the British army on the eve of his regiment's departure for the Sudan his friends and fiancée give him four white feathers to tell him they know he's a coward. Thirty minutes into the film we don't know exactly why Harry is afraid to go to war or why the British are in the Sudan in the first place. Two long hours later we remain in the dark. We have however seen Harry trot off to the Sudan to overcome the shame of his cowardice pose as an Arab and try to protect the members of his former regiment in secret. We've seen Harry protect an enslaved native princess from the overseer's whip. We've seen him save lives in the film's big battle scene where the British greatly outnumbered fight valiantly and with requisite stiff upper lip against the "Mohammedan fanatics" who set upon them in true Braveheart fashion. Since all these events happened way back then "over there " apparently we don't need any more historical context than that and if we do need it we sure don't get it.
The sweeping saga of The Four Feathers which has been remade no less than five times theatrically (in 1915 1921 1929 1939 and 2002) and at least once for TV (1977) makes huge demands on the actors: Ledger must go from a polished drawing-room charmer to a scruffy desert nomad and back again while Wes Bentley who plays Jack Durrance Harry's best friend and constant champion (no feathers from him) must start as a heroic young officer and evolve into a wounded veteran of foreign wars. It requires a versatility that both young actors strive to fulfill but unfortunately they're still a little too wet behind the ears to pull it off. Ledger comes closest but his drawing room persona lacks charisma and his love scenes with Hudson are completely ridiculous. Once the action moves to the desert though it's clear why Ledger is on the brink of superstardom. He really sinks his pearly whites into the character even executing a pretty amazing jump onto a fast moving horse (either that or the CGI is much better than average). Bentley on the other hand carries the film's early scenes but a lackluster finish turns the strong character he'd begun to build into a wispy cliché. The most effective performance comes from the oft unsung Michael Sheen (Othello Wilde). As the feather-giving soldier Trench Sheen shows more subtle skill than the rest of the cast as he goes from a jolly lad to a broken prisoner of war. Djimon Hounsou is also good as Abou Fatma a former slave who befriends Harry in the desert and helps him protect his friends. Kate Hudson is hardly worth mentioning as Harry's love interest Ethne; she's barely there in this picture.
Four Feathers Four Feathers how do I hate thy plot holes? Let me count the ways. First of all there's the gaping maw in the movie's entire premise--Harry's cowardice goes completely unexplained from start to finish. In fact when Abou asks him why he resigned his commission (Abou though born and raised in the Sudan was a scout for a British general and therefore conveniently speaks English) Harry responds "I just--there are many reason why. Mostly I was afraid." We know that mate. Then there's that pesky fourth feather. The first three come in a nice little box nestled in with three calling cards belonging to Harry's fellow soldiers. The next time we see the feathers in Harry's hand though there are four of them. We find out about 45 minutes later that the final feather came from Ethne. Was a potentially stirring scene lost on the cutting room floor? We may never know. Plot holes aside there are some beautiful painterly shots that show director Shekhar Kapur's promise but there are some appallingly amateurish moments too especially the extreme close-ups of Ledger for no apparent reason and a scene that has Hudson speaking key lines while she's out of focus and in the background of the shot.