As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
Fela!, about the life of revered African world music star Fela Kuti, will go up against Green Day's American Idiot, Memphis, and Million Dollar Quartet in the coveted Best Musical category at the 64th annual prizegiving, which honours the best on Broadway.
Meanwhile, Grammer and Hodge, who star as a camp gay couple in La Cage, will compete against Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises), Chad Kimball (Memphis) and Sahr Ngaujah (Fela!) for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
The evening is sure to be a star-studded event, with Hollywood actors Jude Law (Hamlet), Alfred Molina (Red), Liev Schreiber (A View from the Bridge), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane) and Denzel Washington (Fences) pitted against each other for the Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play award.
Washington's co-star Viola Davis will battle it out in the category for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, against Valerie Harper (Looped), Linda Lavin (Collected Stories), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still) and Jan Maxwell (The Royal Family).
Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music), Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture), Montego Glover (Memphis) and Christiane Noll (Ragtime) received nods for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, and Scarlett Johansson's Broadway debut in A View from the Bridge has earned her a nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.
Nominations for Best Play include In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), Next Fall, Red and Time Stands Still.
The winners will be announced on 13 June (10) at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The main list of nominees is as follows:
In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Time Stands Still
Million Dollar Quartet
Best Book of a Musical:
Everyday Rapture - Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Fela! - Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones
Memphis - Joe DiPietro
Million Dollar Quartet - Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre:
The Addams Family - Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Enron - Music: Adam Cork, Lyrics: Lucy Prebble
Fences - Music: Branford Marsalis
Memphis - Music: David Bryan, Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan
Best Revival of a Play:
Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family
A View from the Bridge
Best Revival of a Musical:
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play:
Jude Law - Hamlet
Alfred Molina - Red
Liev Schreiber - A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken - A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington - Fences
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:
Viola Davis - Fences
Valerie Harper - Looped
Linda Lavin - Collected Stories
Laura Linney - Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell - The Royal Family
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical:
Kelsey Grammer - La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes - Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge - La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball - Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah - Fela!
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:
Kate Baldwin - Finian's Rainbow
Sherie Rene Scott - Everyday Rapture
Montego Glover - Memphis
Christiane Noll - Ragtime
Catherine Zeta-Jones - A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play:
David Alan Grier - Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson - Fences
Jon Michael Hill - Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken - Enron
Eddie Redmayne - Red
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play:
Maria Dizzia - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Rosemary Harris - The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht - A View from the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson - A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell - Lend Me a Tenor
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical:
Kevin Chamberlin - The Addams Family
Robin De Jesus - La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald - Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis - Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert - Ragtime
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical:
Barbara Cook - Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran - Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury - A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit - Come Fly Away
Lillias White - Fela!
Best Direction of a Play:
Michael Grandage - Red
Sheryl Kaller - Next Fall
Kenny Leon - Fences
Gregory Mosher - A View from the Bridge
Best Direction of a Musical:
Christopher Ashley - Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge - Ragtime
Terry Johnson - La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Rob Ashford - Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Lynne Page - La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp - Come Fly Away
Jason Carr - La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson - Fela!
Jonathan Tunick - Promises, Promises
Daryl Waters & David Bryan - Memphis
Best Scenic Design of a Play
John Lee Beatty - The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge - Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto - Fences
Christopher Oram - Red
Best Scenic Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Christine Jones - American Idiot
Derek McLane - Ragtime
Tim Shortall - La Cage aux Folles
Best Costume Design of a Play:
Martin Pakledinaz - Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero - Fences
David Zinn - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Catherine Zuber - The Royal Family
Best Costume Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Santo Loquasto - Ragtime
Paul Tazewell - Memphis
Matthew Wright - La Cage aux Folles
Best Lighting Design of a Play:
Neil Austin - Hamlet
Neil Austin - Red
Mark Henderson - Enron
Brian MacDevitt - Fences
Best Lighting Design of a Musical:
Kevin Adams - American Idiot
Donald Holder - Ragtime
Nick Richings - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel - Fela!
Best Sound Design of a Play:
Acme Sound Partners - Fences
Adam Cork - Enron
Adam Cork - Red
Scott Lehrer - A View from the Bridge
Best Sound Design of a Musical:
Jonathan Deans - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Kaplowitz - Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen - A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier - Sondheim on Sondheim
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre:
Regional Theatre Tony Award:
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut
Isabelle Stevenson Award:
David Hyde Pierce
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre:
Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York
The first Santa Clause had a somewhat clever premise on how an ordinary guy can become Santa Claus just by putting on the red suit while the second Clause was about finding a Mrs. Claus. What’s the third clause? The Escape Clause which allows anyone who is Santa the option to give it all up and become a mortal man again. Of course Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) aka the current Santa has no intentions of leaving the job. But his lovely wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) is expecting their first child and missing home a great deal so Scott has to juggle having his in-laws (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margaret) come to the North Pole--which he has to disguise as Canada to keep the “Secret of Santa” alive--with getting ready for Christmas. It’s kind of hectic. And throwing a huge wrench in the whole deal is the envious Jack Frost (Martin Short). Relegated as the “opening act” to Christmas Frost wants his own gig and sabotages Scott at every turn in order to steal the job away from him. There’s no nipping at your nose with this guy; it’s all-out war. Allen makes no apologies for his career. Why should he? He’s been moderately successful playing everyday dads in Disney comedies displaying the right mix of milquetoast-iness and humor. Plus as Scott/Santa he also gets to be sentimental. I just wonder if he still wouldn’t like to do something more cutting edge? Short on the other hand never could find the right kind of starring vehicle for himself but instead has created some hilarious supporting characters (if you don’t believe me rent The Big Picture). Jack Frost is another one to add to the list. The comedian has way too much fun playing the nasty ice man with steely blue eyes a smart--if frosty--three-piece suit and who gets to say lines like “I invented ‘Chill!’” Mitchell (TV’s Lost) reprises her role as the sweet-as-pie Mrs. Claus and has some nice moments with Scott. And what a surprise to see Alan Arkin and Ann-Margaret in this! They are perfect as the meddling in-laws especially Arkin who finds everything wrong with Scott and his “toy factory.” Buena Vista didn’t feel it was necessary to pre-screen Santa Clause 3 for critics. They probably believe the audiences for this franchise is already built in and they don’t need jaded critics slamming the film for being silly and meaningless. Smart. But as much as it pains me to say it Santa Clause 3 directed by Michael Lembeck (who did Santa Clause 2) really isn’t that awful. Yes it’s all terribly predictable with the schmaltz so thick you could cut it with a knife. But there’s also something surprisingly endearing about these movies. They have always provided a sort of warm family-friendly feel without too much forced circumstances—and most importantly they are legitimate Christmas movies--even its being released just as we are putting away the Halloween decorations. Honestly I’d take a Santa Clause 3 over a Christmas with the Kranks (sorry Tim Allen) any day.
The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).
February 22, 2002 11:20am EST
Vietnam vet Leon Barlow is going through a terrible patch. His bitter separation from wife Marilyn resulted in a restraining order and he sees his kids Alan and Alisha only occasionally. His writing career is definitely in question because day after day returned manuscripts and rejection letters arrive in his mailbox. Still Leon manages to tap out prose in the shabby house he shares with a mangy mutt in a rural Mississippi outpost. Leon's best pal Monroe throws him a painting job now and then but is little more than a drinking buddy. Their mutual friend Velma is fun to party with at local dives but is more Monroe's lady. Leon's carousing lands him in jail and a stint in community service after a near-fatal car accident. A terrible family tragedy sobers him up but the big turning point for Leon arrives in the form of an unexpected letter from a long-supportive editor.
Arliss Howard who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay turns in a muscular if familiar performance as the tormented writer. A logical comparison is Ed Harris' recent interpretation of Jackson Pollock an artist similarly bedeviled. But Leon's devils are a mystery--so much so that one wonders: What is this guy's problem? Still Howard has the pervasive angst and southern drawl down pat and convinces as a loser aching to be a winner. Paul Le Mat as pal Monroe is fine as the inconsequential but sweet yokel but Rosanna Arquette as Velma has little to do except look pretty. For reasons unknown Howard's real-life wife Debra Winger who plays onscreen wife Marilyn left her southern drawl somewhere under the kudzu. Whereas all the other characters ring true of Mississippi roots Winger somehow feels flown in from parts unknown. Also in a brief role Angie Dickinson as Leon's mother makes a very welcome return to the big screen. Sigourney Weaver lends some relief and her voice as an unseen editor.
Director Howard co-adapting with his brother from short stories by Larry Brown has slapped on enough style for three films to the extent that
Big Bad Love too often makes no sense. Worse whatever the story is here (surely it's more than that writers get lucky if they wait long enough) is lost. Howard making his directorial debut resorts to loads (overloads) of flashy devices: cryptic montages fantasy sequences solemn fade-outs noisy soundtrack flourishes etc. Such directorial "virtuosity" not only saps the narrative drive but also robs the characters of the much-needed dimensions that make them real recognizable and compelling. Also with so much style crushing so little substance it's just not clear at all at several important junctures what the heck is going on.