The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
As Phone Booth not-so-subtly points out most folks these days spend a great deal of time on the phone--so much so that the compulsion to answer even a random ringing phone is sometimes just too hard to pass up. Such is the fate of one Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) a smooth-talking PR rep who revels in his self-serving unethical existence. He prefers to wheel and deal on his cell phone while pacing the streets of New York but uses a public phone booth for the calls he doesn't want wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) to find out about like the special one he wants to make to Pam (Katie Holmes) a wannabe actress he's trying to get in the sack. Yet on this particular afternoon the pay phone rings--and being the phone junkie he is Stu answers it. Biiiig mistake. The caller turns out to be a serial killer with a sniper rifle who tells Stu he'll be shot dead if he hangs up the phone. Of course Stu thinks it's a sick joke at first but after the sniper kills someone near the booth Stu is suddenly thrust into a hellish game of cat and mouse with the unseen gunman. Eventually the police arrive led by senior officer Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker) who first mistake Stu for the crazy shooter. Soon however Ramey his team Kelly and even Pam become ensnared in the sniper's web--and only Stu can save them by digging deep into his soul and coming clean ultimately outwitting the killer at his own game.
That this is pretty much a one-man show is a given--and Farrell bears the weight of it on his shoulders quite well. The Irish actor has a certain reckless-yet-oh-so-vulnerable approach towards his craft which he uses to full benefit in Phone Booth. Stu goes from cocky bravado to gut-wrenching defenselessness in one fell swoop and even though his character's dialogue gets heavy-handed about what a schmuck he has been Farrell manages to make it all believable. As the sniper Kiefer Sutherland is menacing and sardonic as he goads Stu into his confessions but the baddie never comes off as evil as you would like him to be. Of the supporting players only Whitaker stands out as the police captain who is thankfully a lot smarter than he first appears to be. Holmes and Mitchell on the other hand have the tedious tasks of playing "the women" and neither are able to rise above their thankless parts.
Phone Booth had some difficulties making it to the big screen. Originally From Hell's Allan and Albert Hughes were attached to direct with a varying list of A-list actors attached to star at different times including Will Smith and Jim Carrey. Eventually the film fell into director Joel Schumacher's lap in 2000 and (after Carrey dropped out) he cast newcomer Farrell with whom the director had just worked in Tigerland. Twentieth Century Fox at last was able to set a November 2002 release date--but then came the horrifying real-life events last October where two snipers in the Washington D.C. area randomly killed several people and the studio decided to postpone the release due to those sensitive circumstances. Now that the film is finally coming out the wait seems to have paid off since a) Farrell has become a bona-fide star in the meantime with The Recruit and Daredevil under his belt and b) Phone Booth is just as fresh and visually stimulating as if it was made yesterday. Schumacher shot the film in 10 days because he knew he had to pull out all the stops to sell the concept of having the action revolve around one guy standing in a phone booth. The result is an excellent fast-paced film which uses a split-screen style to tell the story--and keep the movie's--and the audience's--adrenaline pumping throughout.
It's true Celine Dion took an extended break at the end of 1999, in part, to start a family, but for crying out loud, she's not there yet.
Celine Dion That's why the pop chanteuse is suing the National Enquirer for $20 million over a report saying she was pregnant with twins. The tabloid reported the "pregnancy" in its Feb. 1 issue, with a picture of Dion under the headline "Celine - I'm Pregnant With Twins."
"This thing has really upset me," said Dion in a statement read by her lawyer as the suit was filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court. "Since that story came out, everyone has been congratulating me and I have to keep telling them that it's not true. I only wish it was true and I hope and pray that some day it will be."
Added her attorney Martin Singer: "Not only is the news false, but the weekly gave the impression that Mme. Dion had revealed her pregnancy during an interview which, in fact, never took place".
The 31-year-old singer's suit alleges misappropriation of the right of publicity, "false light invasion of privacy", unfair competition and unfair business practices, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Dion knows the tabloid wars well. In 1998, she sued a French rag for saying she was unable to conceive a child.
Dion has said she is taking two years off from her career to spend time with husband/manager Rene Angelil, who is being treated for skin cancer.
BABY TALK: Actor Billy Baldwin and Wilson Phillips alum Chynna Phillips welcomed their first child, daughter Jamison, on Sunday night at a New York hospital, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The babe weighed in at 7 pounds 2 ounces. Baldwin says mother and daughter are doing fine.
"I'm ecstatic," says the actor, who happily added that his wife's delivery was "easy."
Baldwin, 37, and Phillips, 32, wed in 1995.
SUPERNATURAL HONOR: How does Carlos Santana top tying Michael Jackson's Grammy record? By getting a town square built for him.
The guitarist's Mexican birthplace, Autlan de Navarro, is planning to honor him by building a square, a statue and placing his name on a local street, town officials said Monday.
``The square is in the southern part of the town, and it's almost finished,'' Autlan spokesman Marco Rodriguez told Reuters. ``We want to inaugurate it as 'Carlos Santana Plaza' in the second half of the year.''
The plaza will be decorated with a statue of Santana and other local musicians, including one of the 52-year-old rocker's father, Jose.
``Carlos himself suggested that,'' Rodriguez said. ``He wanted to have statues of other musicians, including his father.''
QUICK TAKES: Best Actress nominee Annette Bening ("American Beauty") will serve as an Oscar presenter March 26 -- provided she's not at the hospital giving birth to her fourth child. ...
Meanwhile, Oscar nominees Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore and Haley Joel Osment will be presenters at the March 12 Screen Actors Guild Awards, set to air on cable's TNT. ...
Non-Oscar contender Will Smith leads the field with four nominations going into Nickelodeon's 13th Annual Kids' Choice Awards, to be held April 15 at the Hollywood Bowl. The actor/rapper is up for favorite movie actor, favorite song, favorite male singer and favorite song for a movie -- all derived from the mostly adult-loathed "Wild Wild West." ...
OBITUARY: The widow of screen legend Gary Cooper died Feb. 18 in her New York home, it's been learned. Veronica Cooper Converse was 87. Gary Cooper died of cancer in 1961.