Set in 1976 an arrogant doofus--who loves booze partying and women--buys an underdog professional basketball team and basically runs it into the ground until he is inspired to take his rag-tag team all the way to the NBA. Sound familiar? Semi-Pro is pretty much a mixture of every other Will Ferrell movie. He plays Jackie Moon a one-hit wonder who buys the Flint Michigan Tropics off the proceeds of his hit song “Love Me Sexy.” and tries to coach them even playing on the team. But he ends up dragging them down to last place with his promotional antics. And when the wild and crazy ABA basketball league--known for its slam dunk contests--is about to merge with the all-powerful NBA the Tropics only have one shot to make the cut. Can they pull themselves together in time? This is an underdog sports movie after all. It’s really the same old Will Ferrell shtick in Semi-Pro. Sometimes it’s hilarious but unfortunately after Anchorman Kicking & Screaming Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory much of it is rehash. Tiresome rehash. Nevertheless Ferrell has surrounded himself with another eclectic crew mixing some old favorites with new faces: old Ferrell cronies include David Koechner as the ABA commissioner and Will Arnett as a Tropics sports announcer while the newbies include Andre Benjamin as Clarence “Coffee” Black the Tropics star player and Woody Harrelson as Ed Monix a veteran player Moon brings in to help the team. Think of Monix as Bull Durham’s Crash Davis who once played in the show but has been demoted to the B leagues. Oddly enough Harrelson actually brings some dignity to the otherwise silly proceedings. Veteran executive producer Kent Alterman who has overseen such diverse films as Balls of Fury and Little Children helms his first feature film with Semi-Pro--and that’s basically how the film comes off: semi-professional. Alterman probably figured he only had to point and shoot which is mostly the case and doesn’t do anything above and beyond. The real effort comes from the script written by comedy veteran Scot Armstrong (Old School Starsky & Hutch). The first half of the film is pure Will Ferrell non sequitur fodder--beginning with Moon singing his hit “Love Me Sexy” (lyrics also included is “Lick Me Sexy” and “Hump Me Sexy”) and the obligatory scene of Moon sitting around with his buddies saying “nutty things because they’re not true.” Then there’s the bear wrestling scene. Ferrell must have a thing for the big furry animals (remember the bear pit in Anchorman?) Unfortunately the outrageousness lessens in the second half of the film becoming your straight forward underdog movie. If Semi-Pro is a huge hit Ferrell won't stop making these movies; but if it falls flat maybe he'll think of ways to reinvent himself. One can only hope.
When infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) gets captured in late 19th century Arizona the plan is to transport him to a train en route to Yuma prison(leaving at 3:10 of course). But in the 1800s bringing someone to justice is as arduous as it sounds especially since horses are the only mode of transportation and their carriages the only place to house a prisoner. Across “town ” rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is struggling mightily to support his wife (Gretchen Mol) and kids (Logan Lerman and Benjamin Petry) following a drought and needs to build a well for his family. So when he receives a nominal financial offer to help transport the notorious felon he jumps at it dutifully and desperately. While on the trail that leads to the train station no amount of physical or verbal threat is too much for Wade to break free of with ease. But when it comes to the law-abiding rancher for whom Wade has a certain respect his escape becomes much more complicated than getting out of handcuffs. 3:10 to Yuma’s pairing of Batman and Cinderella Man is perfect in concept and execution and watching the two stars is more than a sight to behold—it is transfixing like watching any two longtime professionals make something difficult look easy. It’s the first of two such powerhouse pairings for Crowe this fall—he co-stars with Denzel Washington in November’s American Gangster—and if this small sample size is any indication big-name costars bring out the best in him. Crowe evokes the kind of real humanistic villain that could only exist in a Western and by playing Wade with equal parts amiability and evil the Oscar winner turns in what is probably his most purely charismatic performance to date. Bale’s character on the other hand—and per usual—is loath to crack a smile a quality the actor has mastered. The Yoda of dialect Welsh-born Bale also has no difficulty switching over to Ol’ West speak but it’s the way he conveys the rancher’s stoicism and will that makes him even more credible. Among the supporting turns Ben Foster (Alpha Dog) stands out as a cranked-up trigger-happy member of Wade’s gang and stalwart Peter Fonda is perfectly cast as a tough ‘n’ gruff bounty hunter. When director James Mangold turned Johnny Cash’s life story into Walk the Line it was the romantic version of a much darker tale. For 3:10 to Yuma a remake of the beloved 1957 Glenn Ford-starrer Mangold gives the Western the same treatment. In attempting to reel in today’s action-happy audience Mangold waters down the drama and speeds up the pace. Minor tweaks for this modern update equal a bit of a departure from true Western style with the dialogue for example as snappy as one of today’s action comedies. But it’s all in good fun. The Old West looks completely authentic and the unforgettable ending is perhaps made possible by the director’s innocuous first two acts. Even so his efforts and those of the screenwriters (Derek Haas Michael Brandt and Halstead Wells who wrote the original) aren’t enough to perform CPR on the Western—not that it’s fair to rest the fate of entire dying genre in their hands.
Luke (Steven Strait) and Brier (Pell James) first cross paths on a New York City subway before the doors shut on their instant attraction to one another. Of course it is immediately and abundantly clear that they will naturally meet up again before long but where and how? The answers: L.A. and well it's complicated. Each having forgotten about the other Brier a top model in NYC decides she needs a change of scenery and tells her agent (Carrie Fisher clearly in it for the paycheck) she's heading out to L.A. to pursue acting while Luke and his brother Euan (Kip Pardue) decide to move to the West Coast as well. Once there Brier befriends Clea (Ashlee Simpson) and on her first night in town takes Brier to a local dive bar where Luke works as a struggling "musician." Wow that's some coincidence. There is an instant re-connection between Luke and Brier but she refuses to get involved with musicians since her rock-star ex mistreated her. Instead she shifts her focus on generating buzz for Luke. Eventually Luke gets the big recording contract becomes the rock-star jerk he'd swore he'd never become and loses it all. But all is well when Brier decides she can no longer resist Luke's ballads and Metallica-guitarist-circa-'85 hair.
The theme of Undiscovered could apply to its cast. Each of the four leads are on the cusp of being on the cusp and certainly they hope this movie will take them one step closer. For James that might happen. She is a natural on screen and gives a breakthrough performance as the comely Brier. Strait is also a relative newcomer. After turning his debut performance in this summer's Sky High he holds his own in Undiscovered but seems to be relegated to taking his shirt off to make the teenyboppers swoon. Finally there's Simpson who is also making her major-role debut. It's awkward to see her on-screen and yes subconsciously you wait for her to make a noticeable mistake (or butcher a voice-over due to acid reflux). Of course it doesn't happen; she moves along pretty smoothly but is at times subjected to dialogue that seems beyond her especially when she has to words big words such as "banter." And certainly it's not her fault when she describes Luke--a musician best left struggling--as "a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello." That's just someone else's words she reciting.
Prolific music-video director Meiert Avis is making his feature film directorial debut with Undiscovered--and his obvious greenness shows. At times the film is more like a music video surrounded by a weak storyline than a cohesive film. His expertise in the rather linear realm of music videos doesn't exactly qualify him for the complexities of a 90-minute film contrived and straightforward as his debut may be. Avis tries to employ every possible clichéd obstacle for the characters to overcome--which reeks of inexperience but could also be the screenwriter's fault. No doubt Avis feels at home with newcomers such as Strait and Simpson who--for all intents and purposes--sing and act but the plethora of singing scenes feel forced. That is forced into the script to showcase the soundtrack when the movie goes undiscovered at the box office.
Actor Robert Blake was placed in segregated housing at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles today to await charges of murder in the slaying 11 months ago of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley.
The Emmy-winning actor was arrested on live television by detectives of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division yesterday, culminating what police Chief Bernard Parks called the most expensive investigation in the department's history.
Police said Blake shot his wife to death on a Studio City street to end a marriage to a woman he loathed.
"We believe the motive is that Robert Blake had contempt for Bonny Bakley," said Robbery-Homicide Captain Jim Tatreau. "He felt that he was trapped in a marriage that he wanted no part of, and quite frankly the entire situation was not one of his liking at all."
Blake, 68, surrendered peacefully at the home of his daughter in Hidden Hills, and was driven in handcuffs to LAPD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. In sharp contrast, his 46-year-old bodyguard was stopped by police while driving in Burbank and ordered to stretch spreadeagled on the ground before he was cuffed and taken away.
Earle Caldwell was booked on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Bakley's death. Bail for Caldwell was set at $1 million.
For Blake, accused of a capital crime, there was no bail. Parks said police will ask prosecutors to charge Blake with one count of murder for the slaying of his wife, as well as two counts of solicitation of murder.
The charges are expected to include the special circumstance allegation that Blake was lying in wait, which could make him eligible for the death penalty, said Robbery-Homicide Capt. Jim Tatreau.
LAPD officials were expected to present their case against Blake and Caldwell to prosecutors today, with a filing decision expected to be announced
Monday, said Sandi Gibbons of the District Attorney's Office.
As of this morning, Blake was scheduled to appear in a Van Nuys courtroom at 8:30 a.m. Monday, according to the sheriff's department.
Booking information provided by the sheriff's department reflected that Blake was booked in the jail at the LAPD's Parker Center headquarters at 11:55 p.m. yesterday. He was transferred to sheriff's department custody a short time later.
At 12:50 a.m. today, Blake arrived at the sheriff's Inmate Reception Center at 450 Bauchet St. A visit to the reception center includes processing into the jail system, being informed about jail rules, undergoing a medical screening and receiving jail clothing, said sheriff's Sgt. Joe Efflandt .
At 2:52 a.m., Blake was transferred to the hospital floor of the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, sheriff's officials said.
He is being held on the hospital floor because segregated housing is available there, Efflandt said, adding that Blake was not suffering from any emergency medical condition.
Efflandt said inmates in all high-profile cases are placed in segregated housing, kept separate from the general jail population to minimize the risk of assault.
Blake was not under suicide watch as of this morning, a Men's Central Jail deputy said.
"The Bonnie Lee Bakley case is solved," Parks said yesterday at a news conference at police headquarters, adding that all other suspects had been "investigated and eliminated."
Parks, asserting "physical and significant circumstantial evidence" against Blake has been developed, said detectives traveled to 20 states as part of the most expensive investigation in the department's history.
Police believe Blake pulled the trigger, and that Caldwell was out of town at the time of Bakley's death, Tatreau said. Police would not discuss Caldwell's alleged role in the crime.
Tatreau told reporters that evidence presented by Blake's attorney, Harlan Braun, contributed to the time it took to come to a conclusion about Bakley's death.
"These leads had to be resolved,"he said. Now, he said, "We believe we have an excellent case."
Braun defended the move to ask police to investigate other leads surrounding Bakley's background, saying that Bakley "had an extensive history and there were people in her past" who needed to be investigated.
Blake has been under a cloud of suspicion for a year, since his 44-year-old wife was shot to death while sitting in the couple's car outside a Studio City
restaurant called Vitello's.
He told police he had gone back to the Italian eatery--a pasta there on the menu was named for the regular customer--to retrieve a handgun that had slipped out of his waistband while he was eating. He said when he returned to his black Stealth he found his wife fatally shot.
Later, a German-made .38-caliber Walther PPK was found in a trash bin near where Bakley was shot. A truck driver who hauled away the bin said detectives told him the gun was well-oiled and covered in dust.
Bakley was described by friends as a celebrity seeker. She initially believed that her latest child, who was born June 1, 2000, was fathered by Christian Brando, son of actor Marlon Brando.
But DNA testing showed Blake was the father, and the two were married in November that year. They lived separately at his Studio City property, which he called "Mata Hari Ranch."
Before marrying Blake, Bakley reportedly had to strike a deal with her parole officer in Arkansas, where she had been convicted of possessing fake
identification. She signed an agreement with Blake not to conduct any criminal enterprises out of his home, but may not have kept her part of the bargain.
The Morristown, N.J., native had a criminal record for a 1989 drug-related arrest in Tennessee, where she associated herself with singer Jerry Lee Lewis and his sister.
Bakley kept extensive records, including recorded telephone conversations with Blake in which he accused her of lying to him about birth control and getting pregnant on purpose to get him to marry her.
In the past, she had made a living selling nude photographs of herself and others to men nationwide in exchange for promised visits, officials have said.
Blake has steadfastly denied any connection with Bakley's killing, and theorized that the killer could have been someone from her checkered past.
The actor moved away from his Studio City home following his wife's slaying and had been living with his eldest daughter while caring for his daughter with Bakley, "Rosie."
Wearing a white sweatshirt and a green baseball cap, a handcuffed Blake was placed into the back seat of a white unmarked Ford Crown Victoria about 6:25
p.m. yesterday, then driven from the gated community of Hidden Hills some 30 miles to the police headquarters downtown, where he arrived at 7:12 p.m.
Best known for his role in the old TV cop series Baretta, Blake gained his early fame as the cold-blooded killer Perry Smith in the film of Truman
Capote's nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood, about the murders of a rural Kansas farm family.
He also appeared in Our Gang movie shorts as a child, portrayed a Mexican boy in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and played Little Beaver in 32 of the Red Ryder cowboy films.