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.
Finally a brilliantly told fractured fairy tale for children and adults alike that does not feature a grouchy green orge anywhere. Once upon a time a young man sneaks into the mysterious magic kingdom of Stormhold that’s walled off from his quiet English village. He soon meets a lovely young lady who just so happens to be a princess enslaved by a not-so-wicked witch. Nine months later a basket is dropped on his doorstep. Yes this baby boy is the unexpected result of his one-night liasion with the royal lass. The boy grows up blissfully unaware of his regal roots so when he reaches manhood Tristan (Charlie Cox) doesn’t understand why he so drawn to the land on the other side of the Wall. He finally hops over the Wall when a star falls out of the sky and lands deep in the heart of Stormhold. His goal: to bring back the star as proof of his love for Victoria (Sienna Miller). Too bad this scheming temptress doesn’t think too much of the penniless and mild-mannered workingclass stiff. This being a fairy tale the star isn’t just a star. The star’s actually a beautiful celestial being named Yvaine (Claire Danes). And she fell to earth as part of a devious plan by Stormhold’s dying king (Peter O'Toole) to determine his successor. But the king’s scheming sons (Jason Flemying and Mark Strong) are not the only ones seeking Yvaine. The oh-so-wicked witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) needs Yvaine to help her restore her youth. So that means Tristan must become the hero he’s destined to become—and take on witches princes airbourne pirates (Robert De Niro’s Capt. Shakespeare) and shady black marketeers (The Office’s Ricky Gervais)—so he can return home to Victoria. But Cupid has other plans for Tristran and it’s not hard to guess what those are. If all stars took on the human form of Claire Danes many more of us would probably pursue a career in astronomy. But it doesn’t take a working knowledge of the Hubble telescope to see how relaxed and luminous Danes is when she’s not carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. And sparks definitely fly between Danes and Charlie Cox even when they’re at hurling hilarious insults at each other. Newcomer Cox makes a smooth transition from ill-at-ease lovesick puppy to swashbuckling hero. He also doesn’t seem to be intimidated at the prospect of staring down Robert De Niro. There’s always concern whenever De Niro takes on a comedic role for a big paycheck. He usually gets by with pure talent and nothing more. And when De Niro’s pirate crosses paths with Cox and Danes you immediately fear that he’s going to offer yet another variation on his tough gruff Alpha males from Analyze This and Meet the Parents. But he blindsides us by instead going all Jack Sparrow on us—that is if the old sea dog had no interest in the ladies—to deliriously campy effect. What with Hairspray and now Stardust Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback seems to be predicated on getting in touch with her inner bitch. She’s splendidly nasty and scary as Lamia. And the uglier and older she gets the meaner and funnier she gets. Equally cruel—though more cheerfully so—is Sienna Miller. Providing small but amusing cameos are Gervais once again revealing an unparallel mastery of toadying and Peter O'Toole who kicks the bucket quicker than John Cleese’s King Harold does in Shrek the Third. There’s legitimate reason to question whether Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn has what it takes to direct a big-budget effects-driven summer blockbuster. Remember after making his name producing or directing relatively inexpensive British crime capers Vaughn walked away from X-Men: The Last Stand. Judging by Stardust though Vaughn would have done a masterful job leading those misunderstood mutants into battle. Then again he couldn’t have done worse than Brett Ratner. Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess Stardust possesses both a big heart and an uncommon adventurous streak. Unlike the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which was too long and too cumbersome for its own good Stardust moves nimbly and confidently through a strange and wonderful land populated with noble heroes to cheer for fiendish villains to boo at and gorgeous damsels in distress to sigh over. Vaughn keeps us on the edge of our seats whenever Tristan must think or fight his way out of danger. But he invests as much time in making believe that Tristan and Yvaine are made for each other. He also strikes a fine balance between honoring the sword-and-sorcery genre while playfully sending up its many cliches. The humor’s a lot more risqué than the bedtime story that was The Princess Bride but most of the sexual innuendoes will zoom over the heads of those still too young to pick up on many of Shrek’s pop-cultural references. Clearly Stardust cannot escape all other comparisons to The Princess Bride but Stardust boasts more than enough magic and daring-do to win over those who remained enthralled to this day by Cary Elwes’ brave efforts to rescue a kidnapped Robin Wright Penn. So this is one fairy tale that richly deserves its happily ever after--and for that matter so does Vaughn.
It's a long way til Super Bowl Sunday, but CBS execs -- God bless them -- are finally giving tube watchers a little something to fight their collective withdrawal.
And no, we ain't talking about football. For to our TV nation, there exists a certain phenomenon much more inexplicably addictive than sports, and it is called "Survivor: The Australian Outback."
Yes. After much media hype and requisite hush-hush, the Eye Network has unveiled this morning the 16 contestants on the sequel to its uber-bankable reality series, which debuts after the Super Bowl on Jan. 28.
The breakdown is as follows: Eight men and eight women (three of them married) ranging from a young pup at age 22 to a more seniorly age 53.
In terms of their occupations, there is an administrative assistant, two bartenders, a chef, a singer-songwriter, a Harvard law student, a personal trainer, an Army intelligence officer, an auto customizer, a corrections officer, a retired cop, a footware designer, a software publisher, an Internet project manager, a part-time nurse/homemaker and a farmer/teacher.
Taping of the Australia-set show was completed long before its air date, with the million-dollar winner and losers already determined. But those facts alone never stopped an average 28 million viewers from getting hooked on the first "Survivor." If anything, the measures to keep the outcome secret egged viewers (not to mention naysayers, speculators and spoilers) on even more.
And judging from fan reactions, reception to "Survivor 2" is going to be just as contentious, if not ratings-sweeping, as the network would hope.
"[I] caught a tantalizing glimpse of the new contestants for "Survivor 2: The Outback" on 'The Early Show' this morning. They've got a couple hot guys this time ... more babes than the last 'Survivor'…," one netizen wrote in the Deja.com chat room alt.musi.yes.
Another netizen contested.
"What's the point of seeing them before the show airs?" the chat roomer said. "Part of the fun was watching the show unfold and the 'characters' come out of their shells. Having preconceived notions about who these people are seems to ruin some of the enjoyment."
Either way, before you know it the nation will soon be addressing these televised 16 by their first names and know their idiosyncrasies by heart.
So take out your pen and paper. Here are their profiles:
Rodger Bingham -- 53, married, from Crittenden, Ky. Rodger is a teacher and also a self-described workaholic.
Amber Brkich -- 22, single, from Beaver, Pa. Amber is currently working as an administrative assistant. Among her many favorite activities are dancing, going out with her friends and ex-sorority sisters and just plain having fun.
Nick Brown -- 23, single, from Steilacoom, Wash. Nick is in his second year at Harvard Law School and hopes to become an Army officer after graduation. As he tells it, he is compassionate, incisive and ambitious.
Alicia Calaway -- 32, single, from New York. Alicia is a personal trainer who describes herself as charismatic, competent and passionate.
Colby Donaldson -- 26, single, from Dallas. Colby is a custom auto designer and builder who describes himself as imaginative, dedicated and flexible.
Maralyn Hershey -- 51, single, from Wakefield, Va. Maralyn is a retired police officer who describes herself as determined, dramatic and multi-faceted. And oh, she was one of the first women officers to be assigned to walking the beat.
Debb Eaton -- 45, single, from Milan, N.H. Debb is a corrections officer at a men's prison. Besides a son working as a Marine sergeant in China, Debb also has an outgoing, athletic and determined attitude toward life.
Elizabeth Filarski -- 23, single, from Boston. Elizabeth is a footwear designer who describes herself as impulsive, intuitive and devoted.
Keith Famie -- 40, divorced, from West Bloomfield, Mich. Keith is a chef and restaurateur -- or in other words, a cook who owns his own restaurant. Much like his cohorts, he says that he is creative, adventurous and passionate.
Kel Gleason -- 32, single, from Fort Hood, Texas. Kel is an Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Army. Unlike the others, he didn't offer a self-description. But if it's at all telling, Gel likes to camp, fish and kayak with his dad.
Kimmi Kappenberg -- 28, single, from Ronkonkoma, N.Y. Kimmi is a bartender (no, not the bar in "Coyote Ugly") in the Big Apple who likes to think of herself as spontaneous, outgoing and creative.
Jerri Manthey -- 30, single, from Los Angeles. Like Kimmi, Jerri is also a bartender, but in her case, an aspiring actress as well. She would like people to know that she is adventurous, fun loving and spontaneous.
Mitchell Olson -- 23, single, from Union City, N.J. Mitchell is an aspiring singer/songwriter who describes himself as witty, outgoing and sexy -- albeit tongue-in-cheekly. For sure, Mitchell will stand high above everyone else since he is 7 feet tall.
Michael Skupin -- 38, married, from White Lake, Mich. Michael is the president of a software publishing company that he founded. He says that he is adventurous, a thrill seeker and a risk taker.
Jeff Varner -- 34, single, from New York. Jeff is an Internet project manager who describes himself as provocative, energetic and competitive.
Tina Wesson -- 40, married, from Knoxville, Tenn. Tina is a part-time nurse and a full-time mom. Her self-description: happy, content, adventurous, outgoing and very much in love.
Let the backstabbing and bickering begin.