You probably haven’t noticed Keanu Reeves’ absence from the big screen over the last few years because to say that you have noticed would imply that he’d actually made a movie worth your time in recent memory. That’s clearly not the case. He returns to theaters with his first starring role since 2008’s The Day The Earth Stood Still in Malcolm Venville’s Henry’s Crime an ensemble comedy about a bunch of bumbling Buffalo natives who plan to rob a bank despite the fact that their ringleader just got out of jail for “attempting” the same job a year earlier.
The film focuses more on the ensemble than the heist and Venville assembled a great cast (including James Caan Vera Farmiga Bill Duke and Fisher Stevens among others) to fill the various roles but he and screenwriters Sacha Gervasi and David White wasted all that talent on an uninspired script that’s frustratingly executed by the director. It’s as if they were writing a pair of separate films simultaneously and just sandwiched them together hoping that two kinds of vanilla would magically create a unique new flavor. It doesn’t especially when both the romantic and comedic aspects of the story are as bland as the dreary blue-collar setting.
But wait it gets worse. There’s virtually no tone to the film; it moves along at an excruciatingly boring pace as its comatose characters interact with one another. The pin-drop silence that runs through a large part of the picture has the same effect as an Ambien and will undoubtedly leave you snoring. You know you’re watching a bad movie when the only sign of life comes from the soulful soundtrack comprised of R&B tracks from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Vera Farmiga bless her tries hard to make her fledgling actress and anti-romantic character interesting but she’s got nothing to work off of because her co-star the always wooden Reeves is so naïve innocent and awkward it’s sickening. James Caan is endearing as a make-shift father figure for Henry; I found myself wishing that the story was told from his semi-comical point of view. And though I’d pretty much watch Peter Stormare in anything (he’s funny as Farmiga’s foreign theater director) he’s hardly got enough screen time to save Henry’s Crime from the qualitative abyss.
From the moment Hailee Steinfeld enters the frame in Joel and Ethan Coen’s magnificent western True Grit an adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel (or re-adaptation — John Wayne's 1969 version got to it first) the film belongs to her. This is no easy feat especially for a 13-year-old actress making her feature-film debut but Steinfeld not only holds her own alongside such heavyweights as Jeff Bridges Matt Damon and Josh Brolin she often upstages them.
The film which is set in the 1870s stars Steinfeld as Mattie Ross a pigtailed 14-year-old sent to the frontier town of Fort Smith Arkansas to settle the affairs of her deceased father an honorable man murdered for two gold pieces by a monstrous simpleton named Tom Chaney (Brolin). Mattie also comes seeking justice: Chaney is still at large having escaped to the dangerous foreboding expanse of the Indian Territory and she intends to see to it that he is captured and brought to trial.
Frustrated by the local authorities’ ambivalence toward tracking down her father's killer Mattie turns to Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) a slovenly alcoholic U.S. Marshal renowned for his cruelty and itchy trigger finger. Were there a Miranda warning in 1870s Cogburn would have little use for it; chances are few of his perps would understand it through his grouchy guttural slur anyway.
Pleading to join their makeshift posse is LaBoeuf (Damon) a pompous upright and overly chatty Texas Ranger — the Good Cop to Cogburn’s Bad Cop — who covets Chaney’s Texas bounty which holds more value than his Arkansas bounty. Cogburn agrees reluctantly to take him on recognizing that Chaney now likely holed up with his criminal gang a vicious bunch headed by a spittle-spewing snaggletooth named Lucky Ned (Barry Pepper) is too formidable to approach alone. Cogburn and LaBoeuf are natural rivals and long rides on the trail of Chaney afford them ample time for dick-measuring contests which invariably necessitate the intervention of their teenage mother hen Mattie.
Mattie may be the most mature member of the posse but she is nonetheless still a child — eventually the job of exacting final vengeance must fall upon the men with guns. Here Mattie’s stout heart has an ennobling effect on Cogburn who after briefly giving up during a booze-fueled bout with self-doubt stiffens his resolve to see things through.
Compared to its predecessor the Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit is both funnier and less sentimental. There is little room for tenderness or romance on the Coens’ frontier but opportunities abound for the kind of black humor for which the writer-directors have become so famous. As in Fargo they have a great deal of fun with language; characters speak in a laughably rigid formalized manner almost Shakespearian in its tongue-twisting complexity. The film's ironic conceit that such codes thrive in a land ruled by violence and chaos is best illustrated in Mattie’s constant almost charmingly naive threats of legal action against her adversaries. They react to her threats with a kind of befuddled amusement; the phrase "I'll see you in court" is still several decades away from joining the popular lexicon.
Critics often bemoan the abundance of remakes in modern risk-averse Hollywood. A more productive strategy at least for the cause of quality filmmaking might be to properly exalt the better ones. This True Grit may be the best of them combining the look and feel of a classic western with a distinctly Coens brothers tone. And Ms. Steinfeld is nothing short of a revelation.
Sam Mendes has become the frontrunner to direct Oz the Great and Powerful, Production Weekly said via Twitter yesterday.
Robert Downey Jr. is said to be circling the role of the Wizard. Playlist reports that details are scarce, but that the project is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz and is based on a script by Mitchell Kapner.
With Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli putting "Bond 23" on hold, Mendes is freed up from that project but Downey Jr. has an upcoming schedule that includes Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes 2 and most likely Joss Whedon's The Avengers early next year.
Last month, The Los Angeles Times reported that Joe Roth was developing a movie called Brick that delves into how the Wizard came to sit behind the curtain. That screenplay was drafted by Kapner, basing it on pieces from several other L. Frank Baum Oz books as well as his original ideas, said the LAT at the time.
The Producers actor stars as Gomez Addams alongside Bebe Neuwirth as his Morticia in the new production based on the kooky family, who were first immortalised in Charles Addams' comic strip and then in a TV show and movie series.
The curtain went up on the show in New York City on Thursday night (08Apr10), but critics were unimpressed - The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote a scathing review, branding the musical "genuinely ghastly".
He writes, "Imagine, if you dare, the agonies of the talented people trapped inside the collapsing tomb called The Addams Family. This genuinely ghastly musical... stars a shamefully squandered Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. Everyone else tries not to look embarrassed, though it's not easy."
Elysa Gardner, of USA Today, adds, "The stabs at crass hilarity also seem ill at ease with the hokey plot," while Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News' calls the show "half-baked", adding: "By the two-and-a half hour mark The Addams Family really wears thin. Hearing the finale, Move Towards The Darkness, it struck me. Move towards the exit was a much better idea."
September 16, 2004 12:22pm EST
In 1930s New York Chronicle investigative reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a lead on a story she's been covering about prominent scientists from around the world who are mysteriously disappearing. When Manhattan is attacked by giant robots Polly reluctantly seeks the help of an old flame ace aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to get the scoop and find out who's behind these strange events and discovers an Oppenheimer-type science man named Dr. Totenkopf has abducted the scientists in a mad bid to build a doomsday device to annihilate what he believes to be an already damned human race. Assisted by Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) who runs a secret mobile airstrip thousands of feet in the air Sky Captain and Polly head out to stop Totenkopf and save mankind. How could such a visually dazzling film where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of three dashing Hollywood stars be so ... unexciting? Much stronger storylines could have evolved from supporting players Dex Sky's right-hand man (Giovanni Ribisi) and especially daredevil Franky and her amphibious squadron all of which are used too sparingly throughout the film.
Paltrow in the lead role of Polly completely captures the witty rapid-fire dialogue of the era immortalized by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. But while her performance is nearly flawless Polly's self-centeredness turns the would-be heroine into an antagonist; it's hard to like a character who can't put humanity's needs before her own career ambitions. Polly's rabble-rouser persona should bring some exciting tension between her character and Sky Captain's Boy Scout guise but it doesn't--in fact there's a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. But Law's performance as Sky Captain brilliantly matches Paltrow's as the actor encompasses the new-yet-old type of movie hero one more suave than macho. Less platonic however is the on-screen relationship between Law's Sky and Jolie's Franky. The script's purposefully ambiguous take on the characters' history adds spice to the film's otherwise bland relationships. It's too bad Jolie's performance probably the highlight of the film isn't brought more to the forefront. Ribisi injects some light comedy to the heavy story and Omid Djalili impresses as Kaji a friend of Sky Captain's who helps them during a leg of their journey to find Totenkopf. To their tremendous credit all the cast members delivered seamless performances especially considering all their scenes were shot in one room using a blue screen.
The production behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is what this film is really all about. Based on a six-minute test reel created on his home Mac writer/director Kerry Conran was able to nab studio backing and secure major names--not shabby for one's feature debut. The final product delivers too--a retro sci-fi picture where nearly everything onscreen except for the actors was painstakingly computer generated in post-production. It's amazing how the actors blend flawlessly into the film's animatic backdrops. Every shot makes the most of its visual effects and the film has a dark and dramatic comic book feel a sort of Gotham meets War of the Worlds. Conrad pays homage to literary masters such as H.G. Wells New York's 1939 World's Fair and films including The Wizard of Oz: Sky Captain tracks down Totenkopf like Dorothy searched for her sorcerer and although they are not in Kansas and there is no yellow brick road there is a mysterious genius hiding behind the curtain. But unlike Wizard of Oz Sky Captain doesn't hold its momentum. There's a chase scene for example that goes on way longer than it should have and an overly weighted storyline about Polly and Sky Captain's defunct love affair. Did he cheat on her when they were together years ago? Did she sabotage his airplane? Who cares! Luckily the ending somewhat redeems the story thanks to a couple of surprising little twists.
Anyone who knows anything about the real-life Jackie Kallen will probably find
Against the Ropes a significant deviation from her biography. In the film Kallen (Meg Ryan) is a boxing fanatic whose work as an executive assistant at the Cleveland Coliseum allows her to watch the bouts from her office and do the hang at a bar frequented by boxers promoters and local sports paparazzi. Her big break into the man's world of pro boxing comes when she has a run-in with promoter Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub) and he sells her a contract with a boxer for a dollar. That boxer turns out to be a crackhead has-been but while visiting his derelict tenement she discovers her ticket to the big time in Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) a street thug with the raw talent to become a champion. She enlists the help of veteran trainer Felix Reynolds (Charles S Dutton) and the rest of the story chronicles the team's meteoric rise to fame Kallen's Faustian over-reaching her lust for publicity and her ultimate professional downfall and resurrection.
As the movie version of Jackie Kallen Ryan dresses walks talks and verbally spars an awful lot like Julia Roberts did as Erin Brockovich and like her predecessor she tries to trade in her cherubic image for something a little well grittier. Picture lace-up bodices snakeskin leather minis suits with satin lapels cut down to there and other skintight skin-patterned accoutrements and you'll have a pretty good idea of what her character looks like. Add an indescribable yet undeniably lowbrow accent and you'll know what she sounds like too. But underneath it all this is still Meg Ryan cute as a button with those big blue eyes and the nose that wrinkles when she smiles. There are moments when Ryan seems to tap into her inner gnarly girl but they're few and far between; most of the time she comes off like a little kid playing dress-up which is kind of fun to watch for a while but eventually you want her mom to come and take her off your hands. Epps fares better although he's a bit duller as 'Lethal' Luther Kallen's star boxer and when the ever-charming Dutton who also directed has his few scenes in the spotlight he shines. Less impressive is a tight-lipped Shalhoub as LaRocca whose vendetta against Kallen culminates in a "curtain call" scene so forced and ridiculous it would have ruined the film had it not already been steadily progressing downhill from the start.
Producer Robert Cort says he and the other filmmakers never intended to make a "biographical" film; instead they tried to focus on Jackie's "astounding accomplishments in the man-eat-man world of boxing." For the record the real Jackie Kallen was first a professional journalist and later a businesswoman with her own public relations firm and she represented several athletes in that capacity before turning to managing her own boxers. No doubt that story sounded an awful lot like the female version of Jerry Maguire which is probably why it wasn't made. Instead the filmmakers try a different gambit: They tell Kallen's life story as if she were boxing's answer to Erin Brockovich--the ol' white-trash-gal-makes-good storyline. It's not especially original; it's not particularly compelling; but it may sell a few movie tickets although to whom is the burning question.
Against the Ropes would play great to Lifetime's mostly female audience if it weren't for all the blood and beating. (Director Dutton a former boxer himself has a lot of experience here although from a cinematic perspective this is no Ali where the slo-mo and close-ups of the boxers were poetry in motion.) And it'd do equally well on ESPN if it weren't for all the corny chick-flick tear-jerking stuff.
Dave (Barry Watson) Adam (Michael Rosenbaum) and Doofer (Harland Williams) make up the social committee at Kappa Omega Kappa (KOK get it?) a chauvinistic fraternity that chastises women based on their looks. But when the evil KOK president frames them for the theft of fraternity funds the trio suddenly find themselves out on the street. They must now find a place to stay on campus until they can clear their name and get back into the fraternity's good graces. Until this point the film almost makes Freddy Got Fingered look relevant. Then the three protagonists throw on women's garb and join the sorority Delta Omicron Gamma (DOG get it?) which just happens to be in the middle of a membership drive. At least now it gets funny. For the rest of the film Dave Adam and Doofer become Daisy Adina and Roberta and find out what it's like to wear eyeliner heels and be less than desirable. Admittedly there are some laugh-out-loud moments interspersed in this inane comedy; when a fellow sister enters the guys' room and asks if any of them has a maxi pad because she has soaked through all of hers Adina laments to his friends: "We're not supposed to see what's behind the curtain." Although most of the jokes in this pic are blatantly stereotypical I have to admit that when Adina is elated to find the dress he wants in his size on the sale rack I knew where he was coming from.
Barry Watson has gone to extremes to shed the good boy image of Matt Camden which he has portrayed on the WB's 7th Heaven since 1996. In Sorority Boys Watson plays "the pretty one"--Daisy. His performance however is bland and despite starring in this raunchy comedy Watson still comes off as the angelic one who falls in love with the brainy girl in glasses. On the other hand Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luther on the WB's Smallville) is hilarious as Adam/Adina. You feel bad when he gets laughed at on campus and almost vindicated when he hurls a rock through the windshield of a car filled with idiots. Harland Williams completes the trio as Doofer/Roberta the sensitive one that bonds with his sorority sisters. His character is probably the least original one but Williams still has some of the funniest scenes in the film. Unfortunately Doofer is not much different from the characters Williams portrayed in Freddy Got Fingered and Half Baked. The head of the DOG sorority is played ably by Melissa Sagemiller(Soul Survivors). Sagemiller's character has a sweet earthiness to her and is not your typical bombshell made ugly by frumpy clothes and glasses.
With Sorority Boys Wally Wolodarsky delivers a totally unspectacular movie rife with crude humor and tasteless jokes. However I didn't find myself particularly bothered or offended by the film because it satirizes college fraternities which in my opinion are chauvenistic and elitist to begin with. In the film's opening sequence for example the KOK president is getting ready to punish pledges with something that involves Crisco and hamsters. Crass yes but isn't humiliation what hazing is all about? Perhaps it is in bad taste but I laughed when Roberta admits he is addicted to porn during an all-girl support session and I laughed even harder when it's his turn to clean the bathroom and he yanks a massive wad of hair out of the drain. "It's like a Wookie man!" he exclaims followed by a hilarious impression of Chewbacca. Sure there are some not so funny moments (the duel with dildos is just plain dumb) and their plan to clear their names is completely implausible. But why shouldn't we appreciate a good laugh at the Greek system's expense once in a while? The film would have been frighteningly realistic had the three boys not learned a valuable lesson at the end.