Lonely Hearts is really two stories set in post WWII America. The main story is about Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) a small-time swindler who bilks war widows out of their insurance money and life savings by getting them to fall in love with him. He then marries them and kills them once he has control of their assets. His neat little scam is thrown off kilter when he discovers that one of his targets Martha Beck (Salma Hayek) is penniless. He tries to dump her but she figures out his scheme and they become lethal lovers and partners in crime. The other story is about the detective (John Travolta) who tracks them down. He is picking up the pieces of his own tragic life after his wife commits suicide. His son (Dan Byrd) is a distant and difficult teenager and his girlfriend (Laura Dern) is trying to help him get on with his life. Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) is excellent as the greasy playboy who seduces and kills lonely women. He plays the sleazy charm and indecisive weakness of Ray Fernandez perfectly. But the standout performance of the film is Salma Hayek. Although Martha Beck on her best day never looked anywhere near as good as Hayek does on her worst the actress makes the cold-blooded character her own doing whatever it takes to get her hands on the ill-gotten gains. The image of a bloody and frustrated Hayek in a frumpy housecoat sucking on a cigarette with a hacksaw in hand complaining about the tenaciousness of one of their victims is priceless. John Travolta is either miscast or misused as the tortured tough guy detective Elmer Robinson. This wasn't a cool character and Travolta is a cool star who seemed to be straight jacketed by a character who is almost completely reactionary. James Gandolfini and Laura Dern do their best in their supporting roles. Writer-director Todd Robinson turns in a serviceable job behind the camera but falls down on the script. Lonely Hearts' main problem seems to be his inability to wiggle away from the facts to create an engaging movie. Robinson is actually the grandson of the real-life detective who brought Fernandez and Beck to justice. Robinson never gets beyond the made-for-TV luridness of the basic story. Gandolfini gets stuck in the role of narrator which would have been much more engaging if Travolta's character would have been the one talking to the audience. Robinson never lets the audience inside the characters long enough to make the film a more emotional experience. This is a problem with true stories; the writers are often not able or willing to be creative with the lives and motivations of the characters who have done extraordinary and well-documented things.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.
In the 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy began a witch hunt in Washington and Hollywood to cleanse the nation of "commie sympathizers." No one dared stand up to him for fear of being targeted themselves until journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) did an expose of the senator on his television program See It Now. In doing so he risked himself the livelihoods of the reporters working for him and the reputation of CBS. The network stood behind him although very reluctantly and Morrow swayed public opinion--a landmark moment in broadcast journalism.
David Strathairn is wonderfully subtle as the legendary Murrow from small nervous facial tics as he prepares to go live on the night of his controversial broadcast to his barely concealed contempt for the puff pieces he has to do like an interview with Liberace. Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. also do nice work as a married couple who hide their relationship since it's against company policy but their characters--and indeed all of the characters--are all very thinly sketched. The meatiest supporting role belongs to Ray Wise (Laura Palmer's crazy dad on Twin Peaks) as CBS news anchorman Don Hollenbeck who is barely hanging on after being labeled a "pinko" in the right-wing press. George Clooney as Murrow's producer Fred Friendly is low-key but still deftly funny. A number of supporting players like Tate Donovan don't have much of a chance to stand out. McCarthy himself is presented only in archival footage.
George Clooney in his second outing behind the camera is clearly going for a documentary type of feel resulting in out-of-focus shots and quick pans that often land on nothing at all. Dramatic scenes are interspersed with so much unedited archival footage that after a while it does feel like you're watching a documentary although a documentary would likely have provided more context. For some reason a jazz singer (Diane Reeves) is frequently seen performing in a studio at CBS or at a club that Murrow's staff all frequents. The musical interludes are lovely but ultimately rather pointless. You have to respect Clooney's wanting to tell this story and to tell it an unadorned non-Hollywoodized kind of way that Murrow himself would likely have approved since he didn't approve of mere "entertainment." But except in a few rare moments the film remains more of a dry history lesson than a movie in its own right.
Top Story: Madonna's Label Sues Warner Music
Madonna's Maverick Recording Co., who handles such artists as Michelle Branch and Alanis Morissette, has filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Warner Music Thursday, seeking $200 million in damages, Reuters reports. The suit, which alleges fraud and false accounting, stems from a year-long dispute between Maverick and Warner and predates the recent sale of Warner Music to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. In the joint venture between the two companies, Warner has the option of buying out the 60 percent of Maverick it doesn't own when the partnership deal expires at the end of the year, but sources say negotiations broke down when Madonna's price was too steep for Warner, Reuters reports. Madonna's lawsuit also comes one day after Warner Music filed a claim in a Delaware court asking a judge to rule it had met its commitments in its deal with Maverick and that any claims to the contrary were without merit, Reuters reports. Calling the Delaware lawsuit a "sneak attack," Maverick's attorney Bert Fields told Reuters he was doubtful the issues would be resolved out of court. "We've been trying to get these people to settle for a year now and we don't think we'll have any success in the future," said Fields.
Spears Tops Aussie Mag's Sexy Women List
Britney Spears was named the No. 1 sexiest woman by the Australian and New Zealand magazine FHM, The Associated Press reports. The pop princess was followed by Australian singer/actress Delta Goodrem, while Aussie singer/actress Kylie Minogue came in fifth.
Swank-y Calvin Klein Ads
Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank has signed on to be the exclusive celebrity model for the Calvin Klein Sensual Support intimate apparel collection, AP reports. "Hilary is the perfect choice for this campaign. She looks absolutely beautiful and easily conveys the sensuality that we want," Kim Vernon, senior vice president of global advertising and communications for Calvin Klein Inc., said in a statement Wednesday. The new collection will be available in July.
Tribeca Film Fest Announces Slate
The Tribeca Film Festival unveiled its lineup for its third annual New York event, including six international premieres and 10 U.S. bows. The festival opens May 1 with Garry Marshall's Raising Helen, starring Kate Hudson and runs through May 9. Other films featured include Dear Frankie, starring Emily Mortimer and Gerard Butler; Whore starring Daryl Hannah and Denise Richards; and Poster Boy, starring Karen Allen and Michael Lerner.
Alias' Garner Gets a Sister
Mia Maestro (Frida) is set to join ABC's Alias, playing star Jennifer Garner's sister. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Maestro will appear in the last three episodes of the show this season and is expected to return as a regular next season. In other pilot casting news, William Devane has joined an untitled ABC family comedy about a man (Tom Everett Scott) and his estranged father (Devane) who become dads at the same time.
Former Wiseguy To Host Wiseguy Show
Actor Vincent Pastore, best known for playing the ill-fated Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero on HBO's The Sopranos, will host The Wiseguy Show, a weekly celebration of Italian-American culture for Sirius Satellite Radio, AP reports. Pastore will interview guests from the Italian-American community, discuss world events, review movies, perform skits, give sex advice and interact with listeners as well as play music from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Al Martino, Jerry Vale and other classic crooners. The show premieres Saturday.
Costello Writes the Books
Taking his popular song "Everyday I Write the Book" to heart, singer-songwriter Elvis Costello cinched a deal with publisher Simon & Schuster to write two books, Reuters reports. The first, due in the fall of 2005, promises to be a work of "intimate narrative chapters taking their cue from the styles, themes and characters" found in Costello's lyrics, the publisher said. The second book, titled How to Play the Guitar, Sing Loudly and Impress Girls ... or Boys, is described as a "work of comic philosophy," Reuters reports.
Role Call: Beckham Bends Panther; Bridges Becoming Mogul
Soccer star David Beckham is in negotiations to make his feature film debut in the upcoming comedy remake The Pink Panther. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the story follows bumbling French detective Inspector Clouseau (Steve Martin) as he investigates the murder of a famous soccer coach and the theft of the Pink Panther diamond and also stars Kevin Kline, Beyonce Knowles and Jean Reno. Beckham would play a cameo role as a soccer player, natch…Jeff Bridges is set to star in the indie The Moguls, a comedy about a small town that bands together to make a porno film. Writer Michael Traeger (Dead Man on Campus) will make his directorial debut.