Drive Angry directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D) is an action thriller with a resolutely trashy grindhouse ethos. This weekend should you require an antidote to the Academy Awards’ hauteur pretentiousness and altogether unreasonable commitment to quality this lowbrow orgy of carnage nudity and roaring muscle cars will surely do the trick. Then again so will a few episodes of Jersey Shore. But that show unlike Drive Angry isn’t available in eye-bludgeoning 3D. Yet.
The film stars Nicolas Cage as John Milton a cigar-chomping Jack Daniels-swilling ex-con who has escaped from hell (literally) to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by an apocalyptic cult. Fear not B-movie aficionados: The character’s name a winking nod to the author of Paradise Lost is about the only discernibly literary or philosophical element to be found in Drive Angry which otherwise keeps its aim squarely below the waist. Knowledge of Milton’s 17th-century epic poem or of literature in general is not required for the enjoyment of this film. In fact it might hinder it.
Some films inadvertently earn the “so-bad-it’s-good” label; Drive Angry aspires to it. The plot is spotty and nonsensical crafted mainly to connect the dots between bloody spurts of stylized mayhem. Milton drifts through various small southern towns populated entirely with louts and sluts leaving behind a trail of bodyparts as he rushes to confront the cult leader (Billy Burke) who abducted his granddaughter and who intends to offer her up to the Dark Lord at the next full moon.
Along the way he picks up a sidekick Piper (Amber Heard) a pugilistic potty-mouth in daisy dukes included in the film for the very express purpose of giving us something pretty to look at betwixt the gory shootouts and car chases – a considerate gesture on the part of the filmmakers truth be told. She is however only tangentially related to the plot. Which would be a problem if plot were a priority.
Drive Angry’s holy triumvirate of sex violence and muscle cars merges into one unified splatter-drenched whole during the film’s climax in which Milton launches his ’69 Dodge Charger into the center of an orgiastic cult gathering picking off with a shotgun the few revelers he can’t run over before finally following through on his pledge to drink a bottle of beer from the skull of his dead nemesis. This is actually one of the film's more endearing moments.
Cage for his part has a few moments of inspired batshitry my favorite being a scene in which he enjoys a bizarre sexually charged exchange with a randy waitress before pulling her in for a sloppy French kiss but for the most part his eccentricity is disappointingly muted. He’s more of a grim gunslinger out of the Sergio Leone mold in Drive Angry shooting much and saying little which doesn’t leave much room for those manic outbursts I’ve come to regard with such genuine affection.
Slyly stealing the show from Cage in Drive Angry is the man who pursues him The Accountant played by esteemed character actor William Fichtner. A sort of bounty hunter sent by the devil to bring Milton back to hell The Accountant moves with a kind of creepy grace his utter disregard for conventions of personal space throwing every character he encounters off-balance. Fichtner’s wry observations are the comedic highlight of a movie that tries hard to ape the dark offbeat humor of Tarantino's Death Proof but falls woefully short in the end.
Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) doesn’t know how lucky she has it. She’s smart beautiful and married to Gerry (Gerald Butler) a passionate funny and impetuous Irishman who loves her with every breath in his body. But when that breath runs out--Gerry dies unexpectedly from an illness--Holly’s luck runs out. Barely coping her salvation arrives in the form of letters from Gerry that come to Holly in unexpected ways--letters he wrote to her before he died to help her get through the pain and move on with her life and letters that always end with “P.S. I Love You.” A saint huh? Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates) and best friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow) begin to worry Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past but in fact each letter pushes Holly on a journey of rediscovery and to show her how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into new beginning for life. Tissues please! Swank will be damned if she pigeonholes herself into always playing serious women who don’t wear makeup. P.S. I Love You is her stab at romantic dramedy and while the genre may not suit her best the Oscar-winning actress still has fun playing a spirited woman who wears designer clothes cute hats and gets to make out with a strapping Irish hunk. Actually Swank gets to bed TWO strapping Irish hunks in P.S. I Love You: The first is the yummy Butler of course and the other is Gerry’s old bandmate William played by American Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who’ll be seen in the upcoming romantic comedy The Accidental Husband with Uma Thurman). Lucky girl. Butler however is the one the ladies will sigh over the most. Having already given a powerhouse performance this year as the Spartan king in 300 the Scottish actor turns the tables to show his soft underbelly as the adorably romantic and fun-lovin’ Gerry. The abs still rock though. One can easily see why Holly is such a mess after he dies. Gershon and Kudrow add some genuineness as Holly’s friends (someone please find a Kudrow a TV show) as does Bates as Holly’s hardened mother. Harry Connick Jr. however seems out of place as Holly’s would-be suitor. She just needs to stick with the Irish guys. Hilary Swank teams up with her Freedom Writers director Richard LaGravenese once again for P.S. I Love You and it’s clear they have a symbiotic relationship. Swank probably likes the way LaGravenese accentuates her best features turning her into a glam leading lady while LaGravenese obviously enjoys gazing at her through his camera lens. Unfortunately the two really haven’t found the best material. Freedom Writers is the mother of all teacher-gets-students-motivated retreads while P.S. I Love You--based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern and adapted by LaGravenese and Steven Rogers--is just pure fluff with very little substance behind it. Not that the film won't inspire some romantic feelings or work up tears but its only real strengths are: 1) the players who somehow rise about the triteness of it all especially Butler and 2) the gorgeous landscapes of Ireland which should send any woman in her right mind straight to the Emerald Isles to find her perfect man. Seriously ladies book your trips NOW.
Rexxx is a superstar dog in Hollywood with movies such as Jurassic Bark and The Fast and the Furrious on his plate. On the set of his latest movie he is being a diva refusing to come to the set because one of the spotted coats in his trailer reminds him of a snooty Dalmation who broke his heart. Eventually Rexxx’s people convince him he can outlive the Taco Bell Chihuahua dog's legacy if he performs this one great stunt. But while diving out of an airplane Rexxx forgets his parachute and lands in a truck full of tomatoes. He ends up running into a boy Shane (Josh Hutcherson) who’s really not into dogs. Shane’s dad is a fire captain (Bruce Greenwood) and the boy’s extended family is a group of well-meaning misfit firefighters at the Dogpatch Station. They're in constant competition with their rival fire station and the city manager (Steven Culp) is warning the Dogpatch Station that they will soon be closing down. On top of it all there are lots of mysterious fires breaking out around Dogpatch. Can Rexxx help save the day? Hutcherson is an amiable child star. After his recent dramatic role in Bridge to Terabithia and as the older brother in Zathura it's clear he's got a long career ahead of him. He comes across as clever and sensible while the world around him is often going haywire. And the young actor has a superb connection with Greenwood as his distant father. Also doing a fine job is Culp as the city manager and Greenwood’s best friend. The last time these two veteran character actors starred together was in Thirteen Days. Teddy Sears (TV’s Ugly Betty) is particularly funny and charming as the fireman who keeps sliding on top of his fellow firefighters when going down the pole. But of course this is a dog's movie and the four Irish setters used to play the lead pup do some pretty cool stunts and reaction shots. Rexxx comes across as delightfully personable even though he smells bad. Director Todd Holland certainly knows how to direct family stories after winning three Emmys for Malcolm in the Middle. This father-son story centers on a recent tragedy and neither of them deal well with it instead becoming more and more distant from each other. Of course the dog’s intrusion brings them together but the storyline cleverly dances a fine line between the stereotypical genres. Firehouse Dog has both laugh-out-loud moments as well as warm fuzzy teary-eyed moments that feel very real. Of course some of the absurd facial expressions and Matrix-like moves by the dog are computer generated but it's not distracting--and not too obvious. The movie is fun for kids and parents to see together especially if they have a dog at home.
Based on E.B. White’s enduring children’s story we meet Wilbur the Pig (Dominic Scott Kay) a runt who is saved from the axe by a little farm girl named Fern (Dakota Fanning). She raises Wilbur from infancy but eventually she has to send Wilbur over to her uncle’s neighboring farm since there’s no room for a pig in her house. There in the barn Wilbur meets the assortment of colorful animal characters: Betsy (Reba McEntire) and Bitsy (Kathy Bates) two pessimistic cows; motherly goose Gussy (Oprah Winfrey) and her henpecked hubby Golly (Cedric the Entertainer); Samuel (John Cleese) an uptight sheep; the skittish horse Ike (Robert Redford); the self-serving rat Templeton (Steve Buscemi); and of course sweet Charlotte (Julia Roberts) a spider with a heart of gold. When the naïve Wilbur finds out he might be Christmas dinner Charlotte makes a promise to her new friend that she’ll do everything in her power to make sure Wilbur sees the Christmas snow—and everyone ends up helping her out. What could be more fun than to voice a barnyard animal? Winfrey and Cedric’s geese banter is like an old married couple. Cleese gives Samuel the sheep a certain upper-crustiness. Redford is actually pretty funny as a horse who’s deathly afraid of spiders (“I’ll listen to you but I just can’t look at you”). Buscemi is a particularly nice choice as the sneaky rat Templeton who only thinks about filling his belly with food (no typecasting there we swear). For pure comic relief there are also two crows voiced by Andre Benjamin and Thomas Haden Church who just can’t quite get around the whole scarecrow thing. And as Charlotte Roberts has a truly soothing and loving tone sort of how you’d imagine it from the book. As for the human aspect Fanning continues to do what she does best playing Fern with the right amount of youthful innocence spunkiness and determination. Just wondering how we are going to handle it when this amazing little actress grows up and starts doing like adult things. Actually it is sort of a shame they couldn’t get a live-action version of Charlotte's Web made before Babe. Sure there was the 1973 animated cutesy film but a live-action adaptation of this timeless tale really should have been the standard by which all computer-generated talking farm animal movies would follow don’t you think? Instead Charlotte's Web pales ever so slightly in comparison. Oh well water under the bridge. Director Gary Winick (13 Going on 30) still manages to invoke the wonderful and uplifting spirit of the novel keeping faithful to the text in all ways. Visually the film is crisp and flawless in its execution particularly in the beauty and splendor of how Charlotte spins her webs and emotionally hearts will indeed swell and tears will flow. Charlotte's Web is the perfect family movie to inspire the next generation of young readers and viewers as well as for the rest of us who fondly remember the childhood classic.
Last we heard in last year’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman Madea (Tyler Perry) was solving social cultural and familial problems. What a busy lady! Well she’s done gone and done it again after a whole new crop of problems pop up that need fixing. This time the conflicts revolve primarily around two sisters Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) and Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) both of whom are wary of their financial-minded mother Victoria (Lynn Whitfield). Vanessa is deathly afraid to love again after her husband left her and two kids and fears she might’ve met Mr. Right in the form of a bus driver (Boris Kodjoe). Meanwhile Lisa is in a physically abusive relationship with Carlos (Blair Underwood) “Atlanta’s most eligible bachelor ” but is afraid to leave him. Madea the antithesis of gold-digging Victoria solves these and many more problems as the family reunion nears. After Mad Black Woman’s surprise box office take last year bigger names were less reluctant to sign on. Accordingly the new actors in Reunion are very solid—borderline stellar collectively. The lone exception is Perry as Madea (as well as a few other characters) whose over-the-topness although expected reduces the air of professionalism from the rest. Underwood is so damn good at being so damn bad as the abusive fiancée Carlos while Whitfield matches him chill for chill in a very icy performance. The relative unknowns/newcomers are the most pleasant surprises however. Aytes has breathtaking beauty that would normally overshadow acting but not here. Anderson whose last film was ‘95’s Clockers is equally beautiful and evocative as a single mother torn. And for the female eyes there’s Kodjoe whom girls will likely fall for even more when they learn he can actually act. Perry wears many hats in Family Reunion: writer director producer star--and oh yeah he also wrote the popular stage production from which the film is adapted. Perhaps Perry’s workaholic attitude contributes to the film’s thematic overkill. There are a number of kinks in the film’s completely uneven story and the way it is told but perhaps the biggest problem stems from the fact that it still feels like a stage play. Sometimes that’s a plus for a film but it’s hard to think it was intended. This feeling is elicited by the sum of the story’s parts. Perry will be in one scene telling the tale of a beleaguered battered woman amid a linear and conventional storyline and in the next scene become Madea in her cartoonish and campy getup dishing out her tough love techniques. No doubt Reunion is an enjoyable play--only if you agree with Perry’s comedic remedies for serious issues.
Let's see there's successful and wealthy businessman Malcolm King (Anthony Anderson) who's pretty much an a**hole all the time. There's the vindictive soon-to-be ex-wife (Kallita Smith) who wants to rake him over the coals. There's the overworked underappreciated employee (Nicole Parker) who gets passed over for a promotion. There's the really really dumb mistress (Regina Hall) who doesn't do much but jiggle--and get promotions. There's the dimwitted local bumpkin (Jay Mohr) who simply needs money and any amount will do. This crazy bunch all decide at the exact same moment to kidnap King including the man himself who concocts his plan to get out of paying his wife millions in a divorce settlement. And when it all goes haywire King ends up getting a taste of his own medicine. Are you laughing yet? I thought so.
Why WHY would anyone in their right mind sign up to do this movie? And there's a lot of comedic talent in it too just piddled away. Anthony Anderson is of course at the top of the list. He's turned in hilarious supporting performances in Cradle 2 the Grave and Barbershop and even in stinkers like Kangaroo Jack. But he chooses King's Ransom as his first leading role and that's a real shame. Maybe like his character Anderson will learn a valuable lesson from this. But the biggest disappointment is Jay Mohr who seems to be a glutton for punishment these days. The Adventures of Pluto Nash Are We There Yet? and now this? He needs to sit down and remember how it once was--Jerry Maguire anyone?--and how funny he can be.
Sure I can appreciate a wacky farce when it's done well. A group of people with a mission to get back at an insufferable idiot a case of mistaken identity mix-ups and switcheroos girls with big breasts ex-cons a farting old hag--yes if put together properly it can be funny. But under the guidance of newbie director Jeff Byrd King's Ransom fails miserably. Here's a highlight: Mohr's put-upon character beats the crap out of a giant walking hamburger in a fit of inspired rage. Stop it! My sides are hurting.
"I wish!" That's what pop crooner Enrique Iglesias told The Mail on Sunday's Popworld magazine about his so-called romantic relationship with bawdy tennis player Anna Kournikova. Iglesias insists that they had a great time shooting the video for his new single "Escape," but that's where it ended. "She's crazy, but in a cool way. I heard rumors that I would not kiss her because she had a cold sore," he told the magazine, "but that's not true."
Who knew comedian Bill Murray was such a baseball aficionado? Murray has apparently taken an interest in the new minor league baseball team in Brockton, Mass., and showed up unannounced at the team's offices last month to tour its new $17 million stadium. The Brockton Rox's principal owner, Van Schley, told The Associated Press that Murray might become an owner in the future.
Former Miss America Pageant CEO Robert L. Beck, who was fired in the wake of a rules-change scandal that would have let women who had been divorced or had abortions compete for the Miss America title, is taking the organization to court. Blake is suing the Miss America Organization for several issues, including wrongful termination and severance pay, according to the AP.
Franz Reuther, the man behind the 1989 Milli Vanilli lip-synching debacle, is in hot water again. According to the AP, Reuther's company demolished a 1928 mansion in Miami Beach, Fla., despite being denied permission by city officials. His company could be fined as much as $120,000.
It looks as though Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling might have a case of writer's block. The popular children's author is late on delivering her fifth installment, entitled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The book was originally scheduled for publication for July 2002, but Scholastic, the book's publisher, told stockholders it now expects to publish before June 2003, The New York Times reports.
Four weeks into the filming of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, director Jonathan Mostow has replaced newcomer Sophia Bush with Claire Danes. According to Variety, Mostow felt Bush looked too young for the part.
In the Biz
Jennifer Lopez will star in and produce a film based on a modern version of Prosper Merimee's 19th-century short story Carmen for Universal Pictures, according to Variety. Craig Pearce, who co-wrote Moulin Rouge, will revamp the story, and Lopez will star as the Gypsy temptress.
The estate of late actor Walter Matthau has sued Columbia Pictures for breach of contract over profits on the films Cactus Flower and California Suite. The suit alleges Matthau was entitled to gross participation on the two films and claims Columbia reported only 20 percent of home video receipts, failed to report full cable receipts and obtained secret profits, according to Variety. The suit seeks at least $1 million in damages. Matthau died at age 79 in July 2000.
Emilio Estevez has written the script for and will likely star in a project tentatively entitled Bobby about the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy, Variety reports. Shooting is scheduled to begin in August.
More on the Kennedy front: CBS has commissioned a TV movie based on Richard Blow's biography of John F. Kennedy Jr., American Son. According to Variety, the network is currently looking for a writer to adapt the book, which hits bookstores this month.
The Price Is Right veteran Bob Barker will host the 29th annual Daytime Emmy Awards live from New York on May 17, Variety reports. Barker, whose Price Is Right is now in its 30th season, will also be competing in the game-show host category against Alex Trebek, Ben Stein and Nancy Pimental, and Pat Sajak. The Daytime Emmys will air from 9-11 p.m. on CBS.
Compensation, a film about black culture in Chicago, Ill., is one of four winners of the 2002 Paul Robeson Awards at the 28th annual Newark Black Film Festival in Newark, N.J., the AP reports. Other winners included the short narrative Monster, the documentary Keep on Walking and the experimental film In Check. The festival begins June 26 at the Newark Museum, and the award-winning films--chosen from 41 entries--will be screened Aug. 7.
George Sidney, who directed dozens of musicals, including Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate, died at his home Sunday of complications from lymphoma. He was 85. The former child actor presided over the Screen Directors Guild for 16 years, founded Hanna-Barbera productions and worked with many legends--including Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Elvis Presley.
Roy Schatt, the photographer known for his photographs of actor James Dean, died Saturday at his Manhattan home of congestive heart failure. He was 92. Schatt photographed a multitude of celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Grace Kelly, Elia Kazan and Joanne Woodward. His photos are exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Chicago Art Institute.