Having recently moved to England from America with his large family young Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is finding it difficult to adapt. But it isn’t so much the culture shock or calling his mom “mum” that’s giving him trouble—it’s the fact that he is a warrior and doesn’t yet know it. He is tipped off to the weirdness after witnessing two policemen hot on his trail for purchasing what he thought was a pendant for his sister (Emma Lockhart) morph into black crows. That pendant turns out to be one of six crucial “signs” in need of finding and Will turns out to be the last of the Old Ones fit for the job—as he is informed by fellow Old Ones Merriman Lyon (Ian McShane) and Miss Greythorne (Frances Conroy). Will’s success is mankind’s only hope of warding off the evil Dark whose goal is to defeat the Light and steal their free will; it’s your classic battle of Dark vs. Light. With each passing day Will becomes more adept at sensing new signs but he only has five days to do so before the nefarious Rider’s (Christopher Eccleston) skills reach their peak which will be bad news for everyone. If there were never a Daniel Radcliffe by whom all fantasy-protagonist performances are now measured youngster Alexander Ludwig (of The Sandlot 3 fame) might not seem so stiff—fine inept. But in The Seeker Ludwig struggles with the already tenuous special-effects sequences let alone with trying to carry the movie to franchise-dom. While it’s rare to find the young actor whose charisma trumps his inexperience—a la Radcliffe or even Macaulay Culkin circa 1990—Ludwig comes off more like a kid in a candy store than on a movie set and no editing-room fixes can help. Elsewhere the actors’ stakes are lower and the results mixed. McShane utterly incapable of a bad performance is leaps and bounds above all of his numerous costars. It’s too bad the former Deadwood actor starring as the most vocal of the Old Ones didn’t rub off on any of his younger costars; it’s also too bad he accepted a role well beneath him much like August’s Hot Rod was. McShane’s fellow Old One and HBO casualty Conroy (Six Feet Under) shares a similar venerability but she ditches it the second she wields a sword in a vain attempt to go medieval on our collective heiny. We could’ve used more of Eccleston (28 Days Later) as his wry alter-ego doctor but he spends most of his scenes obscured as the villainous Rider. In most modern fantasy flicks the grand-scale action scenes are where the magic’s at with their bank-breaking special effects and/or productions; in The Seeker such scenes expose the movie as a thrift-shop version of its more deep-pocketed genre brethren (i.e. Narnia Potter Lord of the Rings). It’s not only that the look of the action is less imaginative but also its conception: Each time Will must retrieve one of the signs there is seemingly no difficulty in doing so and thus zero suspense—like a bad video game. That could be because director David L. Cunningham (TV movie The Path to 9/11) seemingly wants the movie to play out like a video game instead of like Susan Cooper’s beloved novel The Dark Is Rising whose story was somewhat tweaked by screenwriter John Hodge (Trainspotting). On the bright side the lush snow-covered English village in which the movie is set is rich and evocative. In fact everything looks great and will keep viewers’ attention throughout the early part of The Seeker. But unlike its aforementioned contemporaries the movie takes a nosedive when it’s supposed to most enthrall us.
Top Story: Death at Spector House Not a Suicide
Suicide has been ruled out as the cause of death of B-movie actress Lana Clarkson, who was found shot at the home of music producer Phil Spector, the Associated Press reports. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department told AP Tuesday they believe the shooting is a crime and have denied reports Spector's name will be cleared soon. "No one involved in this investigation said that," Sheriff's Capt. Frank Merriman said. "My opinion is that somebody is orchestrating this to plant seeds of doubt with potential jurors." No charges have been filed against the eccentric music mogul, who was released on $1 million bail. The investigation could continue until summer because the evidence is complex and forensic tests take months to complete, Merriman told AP.
Bernie Mac's Wilmore Is Let Go
Fox has fired Bernie Mac creator and executive producer Larry Wilmore over what appears to be creative differences, Variety reports. Numerous industry sources told the trade magazine that series star Bernie Mac was asked about the decision to move on without Wilmore and did not put up any opposition, which was likely the key to Fox's final decision. Wilmore, who has won both an Emmy and a Peabody for his work on the show, is now in final negotiations to sign an overall deal with NBC.
Ross Caught Driving Unregistered Car
Police gave diva Diana Ross, 58, a $78 ticket Sunday in Greenwich, Conn., because the black Ford Taurus she was driving had an expired registration tag, AP reports. This latest vehicle incident comes after her Dec. 30 arrest for drunken driving in Tucson, Ariz.
Posh Spice Pays for Slander
Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham has agreed to pay $88,000 to settle a slander suit filed against her by a sports memorabilia shop, AP reports. She accused the shop's owners of selling a fake autographed picture of her husband, British soccer star David Beckham, when she visited the store in March 2001, which subsequently hurt business. It has since been confirmed the signed photo is authentic.
We'll Be "Watching Ellie" Again
NBC confirmed the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom Watching Ellie will be returning to primetime April 15 for a six-week run, Variety reports. The network will decide after that whether they will bring the show back for a third season next fall.
Fox Wins Young-Adult Ratings Race
For the sixth week in a row, Fox has emerged as the primetime ratings champ for young adult viewers, Variety reports. With their hit second season of American Idol leading the way, Fox took in a 4.5 rating/12 share among the 18 to 49 set, according to the Nielsen Media Research numbers.
ROLE CALL: Travolta and Carrey Mess With Classics, Eastwood Heads Into Space, and Gere Puts on Dancing Shoes Again
Variety reports that John Travolta is negotiating to star in a remake of the 1950 James Stewart film Harvey, playing the lovable drunk Elwood P. Dowd, who pals around with a 6-foot invisible rabbit; meanwhile, Jim Carrey will be doing his best Danny Kaye impersonation and starring in a remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty directed by Steven Spielberg. From those blasts from the past we segue to blasting off with Clint Eastwood, who heads back into orbit after his successful Space Cowboys. Variety reports that Eastwood acquired the rights to turn the story of real-life astronaut Neil Armstrong into a feature film; he will direct and produce but will not star. Back on Earth, Richard Gere has his feet firmly on the ground--except when he's dancing, something he seems to want to do more of. According to the The Hollywood Reporter, the Chicago star will tackle ballroom dancing in Miramax's Shall We Dance?, a remake of a 1996 Japanese film about a man who takes ballroom dancing lessons to impress a beautiful young dance teacher.
Told from the perspective of one innocent maid Mary Macearchran (Kelly MacDonald) the story starts as she arrives at the magnificent country estate of Gosford Park. On this particular weekend host Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) have invited an eclectic group to the house for a shooting party. The guests include Sylvia's two sisters (Geraldine Somerville Natasha Wightman) their respective loser husbands (Charles Dance Tom Hollander) her cantankerous aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) for whom Mary works British matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and his American friend Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban) a film producer who makes Charlie Chan movies. As the upper-crust guests bicker about money and power the ranks of house servants personal maids and valets below make sure their charges are well taken care of under the guidance of the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) head housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) and head cook Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Through Mary's eyes we see that the glamour of the upstairs patrons and the seeming precision downstairs are not all they seem. The two worlds are destined to collide and when they do it leads to only one thing--murder.
One of the joys of an Altman movie is his uncanny ability to take a huge ensemble cast of really good actors and carve out a film from their personal stories. This style can also work to the film's detriment however and in Gosford Park the mostly British cast melds together almost too well. Often you can't even tell who's who. Still with all the talent involved there are at least a few bright moments: Smith as the wisecracking Constance an old lady who's very used to being waited on hand and foot gets all the best lines and delivers them flawlessly and veteran actress Mirren is also brilliant as the staunch Mrs. Wilson. She turns in one of the film's only heartbreaking scenes as her character grieves for the son she gave away long ago in the name of servitude. Also good are MacDonald as the young Mary Clive Owen as the valet Robert Parks who carries more than just a chip on his shoulder and Emily Watson as the headstrong chief housemaid Elsie. Northam too shows off his musical abilities as the suave piano-playing singing Novello. The rest all blend together except unfortunately the two American actors--Balaban comes off as annoying and Ryan Phillippe playing an actor pretending to be Morris' valet is in way over his head.
Interestingly the film is taken from a story idea dreamt up by Altman and Balaban. One wonders if perhaps the two were inspired to create Park after watching an episode of the classic '70s British television drama Upstairs Downstairs which was about a wealthy British household whose servant class had just as many dramas as the people they served (hmm sounds familiar). Sure it's conceivable that two Americans sitting around talking about making a distinctly British movie (and a period piece to boot) could pull it off and with a tremendous talent like Altman attached you'd think it would work. But Park misses the mark. The Altman-esque qualities are all there--the way he interweaves his characters' stories and shows real people with real emotions--but maybe just maybe Altman is simply out of his element. You enjoy the ride but it's not a ride through appealing territory and you're definitely watching from the window as the characters live a life you never really become a part of.