A comedy featuring Steve Martin Jack Black and Owen Wilson creates certain expectations not the least of which is well laughter. But David Frankel’s (Marley & Me The Devil Wears Prada) anodyne feather-light film The Big Year in which the three actors star is less concerned with eliciting big laughs than offering earnest insights on the meaning of success and the value of friendship.
Delving into the subculture of hard-core birders (don’t call them bird-watchers) the film follows three men semi-retired industrialist Stu (Martin) schlubby corporate drone Brad (Black) and suburban contractor Kenny (Wilson) as they vie in a year-long competition known as the Big Year. The goal of the competition is simple: to spot as many different bird species in North America as possible. As current Big Year record-holder Kenny is something of a rock star in the birding world. His cocky carefree manner masks a stark determination to defend his hard-won celebrity – and his fragile ego – against the likes of upstarts Stu and Brad both of whom are Big Year rookies. None of the three leads stray far from type but they do offer slight tweaks to their usual screen personas: Wilson is sly and Machiavellian; Black tones down the buffoonery limiting himself to two (by my rough count) pratfalls; Martin’s sardonicism is tempered with humility.
There’s no prize for winning a Big Year; the sole reward is the adulation of fellow members of the birding community. Competition is surprisingly fierce. The three men frantically criss-cross the continent darting from one remote location to another in search of the next rare find. At first wary of each other Stu and Brad eventually unite over a mutual desire to defeat Kenny whose crafty gamesmanship has frustrated them both. Their strategic pact gradually evolves into a genuine friendship leading both men to discover that there are more important things in life than winning an amateur birding competition.
Shot on location in British Columbia the Canadian Yukon Upstate New York Joshua Tree and the Florida Everglades The Big Year is a visually striking film showcasing one breathtaking panorama after another. At times director Frankel appears more interested in the scenery than his characters who despite the script's copious exposition aren't particularly well-developed. The story at times seem aimless and unfocused and its relaxed pace may prove vexing for some. Indeed it did for me at first. But once I adjusted to its easygoing rhythm the film’s modest charms began to reveal themselves.
Louis Leterrier’s remake of Clash of the Titans the 1981 cult favorite that fused Greek mythology with sci-fi theatrics is a grand experiment in the ancient art of alchemy a big-budget attempt to spin fanboy nostalgia for a 30-year-old novelty into contemporary box-office gold. The main ingredients in this ambitious concoction are a potent arsenal of CGI weaponry and the star of the biggest movie ever Sam Worthington who inherits Harry Hamlin’s role as the heroic Perseus. But it’s what’s missing from the formula that ultimately dooms this remake.
Clash of the Titans redux mimics the original film’s epic ethos and preference for spectacle over all else but its storyline differs dramatically. Perseus is still the half-breed product of a one-night stand between the god Zeus and a human hottie and he still must to defeat the monstrous Kraken in order to save the lovely Princess Andromeda. Almost everything in between however has been altered — and not necessarily for the better.
The new version casts the Greek city of Argos as the primary battleground in a proxy war fought by dueling Olympian superpowers Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Born of a god but raised by and partial to humans Worthington’s Perseus battles not for the hand of Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) — as Hamlin’s character did — but instead for the people of Argos who stand to perish along with their princess at the hands of the dreaded Kraken. The film’s love story if it can be called that consists of the briefest of flirtations between Perseus and Io (Gemma Arterton) his self-appointed spiritual guide. (Cursed with immortality by the gods Io’s been secretly watching him all his life — which ostensibly makes her a glorified stalker.)
This detail is a small but crucial one. Strong-willed Perseus braves an obstacle course of giant scorpions gorgons and other horrors laid out for him by the wheezy fiend Hades but it’s never quite clear why he bothers with it all since what’s at stake is a princess he isn’t particularly interested in and a community of people he doesn’t really know — and who frankly don’t seem all that worth saving. His deadbeat dad up on Mount Olympus certainly isn't worth dying for nor are the battlefield compatriots he met barely a week prior. And while I’m sure that a few inviting glances from Gemma Arterton are positively delightful I wouldn’t risk being doused in flesh-eating scorpion venom for them.
This narrative oversight triggers a drain in enthusiasm that persists throughout the film. For a movie so epic in scale Clash of the Titans makes for a disappointingly bland ride. Leterrier’s CGI set pieces are at times magnificent but they’re proffered in the service of weak story filled with characters whose motivations are either unclear or unconvincing. During the film’s climax when Neeson’s Zeus utters the portentous words “Release the Kraken ” what should be an emotional high point instead feels perfunctory and anticlimactic. The only excitement it spawns comes from the knowledge that the end is mercifully imminent.
Napster may be on its way out, but the pioneering Web site has blown open the door in bringing music to the Internet.
In the last few days, two major corporations have announced plans to enter the online music world. Rock singer David Bowie also announced that he wants to launch an online radio service.
Vive La Vivendi!: Vivendi Universal, the merged alliance between the French entertainment conglomerate and Seagram's Universal Studios, is looking to close a series of deals with one or several major U.S. Internet portals to distribute its music over the Internet.
At a London conference organized by Dow Jones Media and Entertainment, Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Marie Messier said that he is interested in a U.S. distribution deal that would "distribute my content through as many platforms as possible…not primarily through acquisitions, but with a focus on partnerships and commercial agreements," according to Reuters.
He was entertaining proposals from all the major portals, including Yahoo!, AOL and MSN, but was reticent to disclose who had the leading edge. He also was not eager to join the Music Net alliance, which was announced Monday between AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, EMI and RealNetworks to create online music subscription services.
"Music Net is focusing on one single technology - RealNetworks," Messier said at the conference. "I don't mind working with RealNetworks, but I want to get as much music as possible on an many platforms as possible using as many technologies as possible."
Watch out Internet users, Bill Gates strikes again: Well, if Vivendi Universal isn't interested in the Music Net alliance, Microsoft Corp. sure is.
The software giant has announced plans to launch a rival music broadcasting service that will offer music downloads and/or online music subscriptions.
"This is an entrance into the online music industry," Susan Lefko, a MSN product manager, told Reuters. "We're looking into all these different types of things…into what makes sense and what consumers are willing to pay for."
The MSN music service will access the vault of technology and digital song analysis of Mongo Music, a privately owned music library MSN acquired in the fall. This technology will allow users to hear a variety of preset music categories and 200 subcategories, while simultaneously being able to set preferences to hear similar artists and different tempos or moods. This will naturally lead into offering songs for downloads and a service for consumers to store digital music online or music subscriptions, Lefko said.
"Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes" for Bowie: David Bowie is up for surfing the net.
His Internet company, BowieNet, is launching its online radio station called BowieRadio, on which a user can hear Bowie songs as well as regular streaming radio stations. They also will be able to hear Bowie as one of the disc jockeys.
"The possibilities are endless,'' Bowie told The Associated Press. "We have developed programming that not only satisfies the musical tastes and personal requests of our members, but also does not infringe on the rights of the writers and publishers."
The service will not allow users to copy and exchange music.
BowieNet has inspired other artists, such as the Dave Matthews Band and Prince, to launch similar sites.