Each year thousands of lovelorn women flock to Verona Italy the hometown of Shakespeare’s Juliet to solicit romantic advice from the tragic heroine. They deposit their pleading letters on a wall near the balcony where Romeo supposedly made his famous late-night visit and if they’re lucky receive a reply from one of Juliet’s crew of officially appointed ghostwriters known as the Secretaries of Juliet.
In Gary Winnick's Letters to Juliet young Sophie (the irresistible Amanda Seyfried) while working on a sort of temp assignment with the Secretaries winds up leading an elderly British widow (Vanessa Redgrave) on a quest to reunite her with the Italian boyfriend she abruptly — and regretfully — jilted nearly 50 years prior. It’s a contrived and far-fetched scenario to be sure but no more so than your average Hollywood rom-com and this one at least carries the pleasant side benefit of allowing the filmmakers to set most of the action in picturesque Verona where Seyfried and Redgrave traverse the countryside on their quixotic endeavor.
The charming mother-daughter dynamic that forms between Seyfried’s doe-eyed do-gooder and Redgrave’s wistful grandma carries Letters to Juliet and make its preposterous and unapologetically schmaltzy plot palpable. But their efforts are largely sabotaged by the mediocre men of Juliet Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel The Motorcycle Diaries) and Christopher Egan (Eragon TV's Kings).
The usually terrific Garcia Bernal is really more of a prop than a character in this film. As Seyfried’s future ex-fiance an ADD-addled restaurateur too preoccupied with procuring ingredients for his new menu to tend to his relationship he replays the same scene over and over as if in some sort of Twilight Zone sketch. His intended replacement played by Egan is an insufferable twit we’re meant to believe is some sort of hot-shot human rights lawyer back in his native England — a detail I wouldn’t believe if he held up his law school degree to the camera for us to see.
Equally incredulous is the romantic subplot that develops between him and Seyfried and when the story shifts to them the film rapidly loses steam. Male characters will always play second fiddle in a chick flick — even one written and directed by men — but in Letters to Juliet they’re almost an afterthought seemingly tossed in late in the game to bolster the film’s appeal to young female moviegoers. In the end even someone as talented as Seyfried can’t effectively sell us on her character's eventual pair-up with Egan’s whiny doofus no matter how loudly the Taylor Swift soundtrack presses her case.
That isn’t to say Martian Child doesn’t get to you every once in a while. It starts off with science-fiction writer David Gordon (John Cusack) telling an audience what a geek he was as a kid. Now of course he’s fabulously successful but he still feels a little like an outsider—and he is certainly not at all fulfilled. You see David has recently lost his wife and in trying to grasp at something meaningful he is contemplating adopting a child. Not just any child mind you—David wants Dennis (Bobby Coleman) a young orphaned boy who spends his days in a box and claims to be from Mars. Seems like a match made in heaven right? Not exactly. The odd youngster proves to be a tad overwhelming for the single dad especially when some of the weird stuff Dennis does actually makes sense. Is he really an alien? David wonders just that and in doing so gradually finds himself growing more attached to the boy and experiencing the transformational power of parental love. Like many other TV movies-of-the-week that masquerade as feature films by using bigger star power Martian Child has John Cusack in its corner. The actor tries his darnedest to do something different with the part playing David with much earnestness and honesty. David gets a lot of things wrong in his attempts to be a dad but his warmth and kindness towards the boy never waver--although I think the Cusack performance we should be looking forward to is his dad in the upcoming Grace Is Gone. Coleman (Must Love Dogs) also does some fascinating things as the strange little Dennis—once you get past his very high-pitched gravelly voice. The young actor plays Dennis with the right amount of weirdness and sadness as a little boy just looking to be loved. The rest of the supporting characters are unfortunately written with every cliché in mind so the actors playing them can’t really shine including Joan Cusack as David’s disapproving—and then approving—sister; Amanda Peet as David’s old friend who exudes enthusiasm ad nauseaum; and Richard Schiff as the child social services shrink who doesn’t think David can be a good single parent. There always has to be a party pooper. Apparently Martian Child sat on the shelf for a little while before being released. It could be because there isn’t really anything compelling about the film save for a few moments any normal emotional person would get choked up about. Dutch director Menno Meyjes who also directed John Cusack in the little-seen Hitler drama Max just doesn’t use enough of his imagination in Martian Child. There are endless possibilities especially since David writes science fiction and Dennis believes he is from Mars. More star gazing perhaps? Fantasy sequences in which Dennis talks to his comrades in space? Alas no. Instead Martian Child plods along its merry little predictable way. You know I’m not a director but sometimes I feel I could do a lot of the same work for a lot less money.
Director David Wain rounds up some of his buddies from the 1990s comedy troupe The State to poke fun at the do’s and don’ts of the Ten Commandments. No need to fall on your knees and pray for forgiveness if you’ve forgotten whose house you should not covet. Wain breaks down the Ten Commandments in episodic fashion and confers the task of introducing each outlandish morality tale upon his Wet Hot American Summer star Paul Rudd. The silliness is firmly established when Wain examines the consequences of worshipping a false idol. In this case it’s Adam Brody who enjoys fame and fortune after he accidentally jumps from a plane sans parachute. Not that he can reap the benefits of sudden stardom—he’s stuck in the ground and can’t be moved. But Brody’s predictament isn’t necessarily the oddest. A 35-year-old virgin (Gretchen Mol) goes weak at the knees when she’s hit on by none other than Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux). Liev Schreiber engages in a game of oneupmanship with his neighbor when both start snapping their town’s supply of CAT scan machines. Life imitates art when Winona Ryder learns the hard way that stealing causes her nothing but pain and shame. Rudd gets in on the fun as the lucky devil juggles married life with Famke Janssen with his booty calls with Jessica Alba. But Wain inflicts the most humiliation on his co-writer Ken Marino whose arrogant surgeon learns the hard way playing pranks on patients will only led to life in prison and a nightly “ass-raping.” As you can tell Wain’s not really into making subtle statements about the set of rules we observe—intentionally or otherwise—in our everyday lives. By finally making good use of her sticky fingers Winona Ryder reveals she’s ready to laugh at her past transgressions. Not that she goes off on a shoplifting spree. No she purloins a ventriloquist’s puppet in the name of love. Nothing in The Ten beats the hilarious though unsettling sight of a game Ryder getting all freaky with her wooden object of affection. She hasn’t let her hair down like this before so good for her. But she’s got some competition from Gretchen Mol whose screams of “Jesus” during hot and sweaty sex are let out with intense religious fervor. The award for Harried Husband of the Year goes to Paul Rudd Knocked Up’s henpecked spouse. But he plays the role of an estranged hubby with such biting wit that he makes marital disharmony a joy to behold. Still it’s hard to see why Famke Janssen and Jessica Alba—both wasted by the way—would fight over this dweeb. A hysterically deadpan Liev Schreiber spoofs his oh-so-serious forensics expert from this past season’s CSI Oliver Platt does a killer Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation and Rob Corddry gives brutal prison sex a kind face. The Ten isn’t exactly the full-fledged State reunion fans are waiting for especially as Thomas Lennon and Michael Ian Black barely make their presence felt. But Kerri Kenny is relentlessly cheerful as a sitcom-ish mom who fails to convince her two black sons that their real dad is the Governator. And an oily Ken Marino quickly loses his smirk once behind bars though he takes his punishment like a real man. David Wain can sleep well at night knowing that The Ten won’t cost him his place in Heaven. While there’s no denying that the Bible-inspired buffoonery on display is irreverent at best Wain and cohort Marino do not take a sledgehammer to the stone tablets. Instead they seem more interested in how the Ten Commandments play a role in our lives regardless of our religious beliefs. That said whatever point they try to make is lost amid the sexual shenanigans. Not that it takes a theologian to deduce that murder is bad stealing is wrong and buying up the town’s supply of CAT scan machines is asking for trouble. By the very nature of its structure The Ten can’t help but unfold as a series of interconnected sketches that sadly lack a punchline. But it’s so goofy and hilariously borderline offense that it’s hard not to be caught up in all the silliness. Indeed Wain’s preoccupation with sex provokes more nervous laughs than groans of disgust. And The Ten offers some side-splitting parodies of family sitcoms prison dramas crime procedure shows and preachy faith-based dramas. There’s even a warning against skipping church on Sundays—and letting it all hang out literally with your buddies—that would turn Homer Simpson into Ned Flanders. Wain orchestrates all this madness in the anything-goes manic style of Airplane! or Scary Movie. The Ten is by no means a minor miracle of the comedy kind but if you accept it for what it is rather than what it tries to be than it’s certainly worth skipping evening services to see.
Although it's modern day there's a distinct Raymond Chandler-esque feel to this story about a petty thief named Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) who lucks into a movie audition and finds himself heading to Hollywood. Harry is replacing Colin Farrell as a detective in a film and to get the realism of the part he's shown the detecting ropes by Det. Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) also known as Gay Perry--because he's gay. Then Harry runs into his old high school sweetie Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) at a Hollywood party. She believes Harry is a real detective and begs him to help her. That's when the bodies begin coming out of the woodwork. Greed torture and mayhem ensue. If there's any way to prove that Downey is back in true form this is it. He's glib charming deep and truly becomes a modern-day Chaplin in this very trampy role. Kilmer avoids some of the stereotypes of playing gay but as he points out "we're not good cop bad cop we're fag and New Yorker." Both deserve awards. Monaghan holds her own as a feisty red-head. Even Downey's real-life son Indio--who plays his character in the early flashback scenes--shows incredible promise as an actor. This is the Shane Black’s directorial debut the same guy who wrote Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight. He knows violence that’s for sure but he also has a keen sense of humor. In Kiss Kiss he mixes them well. Black sets the mood with Downey--giving his best Bogie-like voiceover-- narrating the action along the way. This is better than Get Shorty as far as a dark look into the entertainment industry and far more entertaining. And as Harry's character promises "I've seen Lord of the Rings and we're not going to end this 17 times."
PASADENA Calif., July 20, 2000 - Substance reigned over style as NBC unveiled its new Fall lineup to the media this week. Gone were the matching color schemes and meals by the pool that ABC employed to fete reporters just a few days ago; in their stead, there were neon peacocks and buffet trays with sternos. And the consensus among critics at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was that ABC surely hung window dressing on everything because it only had four new series to pump. NBC, on the other hand, needed no frills to roll out seven new series and two miniseries.
Not surprisingly, the Q-and-A sessions were shorter, with less time for breathing in between. Trashy dramatist Aaron Spelling unveiled his high-camp "Titans," a Dallas-for-the-millennium evening soap with vixens, sex and greed, and starring Yasmine Bleeth, Casper Van Dien ("Sleepy Hollow") and Victoria Principal. Critics broke into applause during a preview, when Bleeth tells Van Dien she is pregnant with his baby - even while walking down the aisle to marry his father.
Katey Sagal showed has ditched her Peg Bundy wig to play a neighborhood witch with heart in the coming-of-age sitcom, "Tucker." Oliver Platt ("Bulworth") and indie film queen Lili Taylor spoke about their New York newspaper drama "Deadline." And writers and producers hailing from "The Late Show with David Letterman" brought out the romantic comedy "Ed," starring Tom Cavanaugh ("Providence"), about a New York lawyer who gets fired, catches his wife cheating and moves back to his hometown to buy a bowling alley.
Then there was Michael Richards ("Seinfeld"), promoting his sitcom "The Michael Richards Show," an Inspector Clouseau meets Ernie Kovacs P.I. romp. Steven Weber ("Wings") was on hand to tout "Cursed," co-starring Chris Elliot ("There's Something About Mary'), about a guy who, uh, gets cursed. And, David Alan Grier ("In Living Color") joked about starring in the sitcom "DAG" about a demoted secret service agent who guards the demanding First Lady, the slimmed-down Delta Burke, saying "You will always hear these lines: 'It's because I'm black.'"
Then there were the two miniseries, the biblical drama "In the Beginning" starring Jacqueline Bisset and Martin Landau, and the Kennedy wives' drama "Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot," which features Jill Hennessey ("Law & Order"), Lauren Holly ("Dumb and Dumber") and Leslie Stefanson ("The General's Daughter"), respectively.
NBC's marathon unveiling ended with a celeb-fest at Jillian's Hi-Life Lanes, a bowling alley at the tourist-beseiged Universal City Walk shopping mall. While the food was, again, unspectacular, everyone was handed disposable cameras to take pictures of things like Rob Lowe and Kathy Ireland talking (two perfect creatures that seem freakish standing together), Martin Sheen mugging with "Daddio" tyke Mitch Holleman, and "Will & Grace" actor Eric McCormack discussing how the characters will soon have significant others. In short, the stars pranced, the critics howled.
Looks like there's going to be one less crime-solving series on TV. NBC has pulled its rookie drama "Deadline" after just five weeks due to poor performance, Daily Variety reports.
Ratings for the series, which follows the exploits of a journalist and crime solver played by Oliver Platt, had slipped consistently since its debut on Oct. 2.
The peacock netowrk is expected to announce a long-term replacement for the show's 8-9 p.m. Monday slot. For the next two weeks, a repeat episode of "Law & Order" and the miniseries "In the Beginning" are slated to fill the vacany.
'FAMILY' VALUE: Can we expect fart jokes, or how about a brutal death in every episode a la Kenny? Anyway, Daily Variety says that "South Park" dudes Matt Stone and Trey Parker have signed a deal to develop a new series with Comedy Central. The show, titled "Family First," is said to be an offbeat political comedy. It will feature live human beings and not weird-looking animated characters.
'MORE' IS MORE: Can't argue with popularity. Ryan Murphy, creator of the WB teen show "Popular," is set to work on a pilot for an hour-long drama called "More," Daily Variety informs us. The show will focus on a trio of hunky men working for a certain agency that helps fulfill women's requests and fantasies. Do we hear an Aaron Spelling homage?