For a few years in the '60s and '70s producer Gerry Anderson made "supermarionation" all the rage in the world of British children's television. His stop-motion puppets starred in a number of sci-fi adventure series most memorably Thunderbirds which followed the exploits of International Rescue -- a team comprised of ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons. Based out of their secret fortress on Treasure Island the Tracys (aided by lovely secret agent Lady Penelope) used their amazing rocket-powered vehicles to prevent disasters and save lives around the world. Now 40 years after Thunderbirds' TV debut Star Trek vet Jonathan Frakes has brought Anderson's characters to life on the big screen. Front and center is youngest son Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) who dreams of the day he too can pilot one of his family's fab ships and lead missions. But first he has to prove himself to his father Jeff (Bill Paxton). That opportunity comes sooner than either expects when mysterious villain The Hood (Ben Kingsley) strands Jeff and the older Tracy boys in space and attacks Treasure Island. With only his friends Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Fermat (Soren Fulton) to help him Alan has to grow up quickly if he wants to save his family ... and the world!
It would be easy to mock several of the performances in Thunderbirds-- to chide Paxton for his earnest seriousness as Tracy patriarch Jeff to dismiss Corbet's angst-tinged eagerness as Alan to roll your eyes at Kingsley's over-the-top mystical fierceness as The Hood and to wince at Fulton and Anthony Edwards' nerdy stuttering as science whizzes Fermat and his dad Brains. But actors are only as good as their script and the one Frakes has given his cast (courtesy of screenwriters William Osborne and Michael McCullers) is weak and clichéd at best filled with after-school-special-worthy lessons for Alan to learn. "You can't save everyone " Jeff tells his son somberly and even Tintin has a moral for her crush when he's feeling selfish and indulging in self-pity: "This is hard on all of us Alan." Talk about insight! What makes it even more frustrating is knowing that the actors are capable of much more even the kids: Both Corbet and Hudgens did well with supporting roles in Thirteen. Thunderbirds' only real bright spot is Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope. A cross between Reese Witherspoon's Elle in Legally Blonde and Jennifer Garner's Sydney on Alias Myles' Lady P doesn't let her pink couture wardrobe prevent her from coolly kicking ass when the situation demands it. Attended by her droll driver/man-of-all-trades Parker (Ron Cook) Lady Penelope is a fresh feisty heroine with all of the film's best lines -- and the coolest car to boot.
Frakes cut his directorial teeth on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and his first feature film was Star Trek: First Contact so he would seem like a natural choice to bring a cult sci-fi TV show to the big screen. Unfortunately while he does an admirable job re-creating (and improving on) the original Thunderbirds' mod sets cool ships and special effects (which are fine if a bit more TV-sized than summer blockbustery) Frakes can't seem to decide who his audience is. If he was aiming at grown-ups who remember the show fondly from their own childhood he should have embraced the source material's campiness (à la Starsky and Hutch) rather than restricting it to the Tracys' plastic Barbie-like furniture and Lady P's bouffant hairdo. If on the other hand Frakes was hoping to entertain today's kids he should have really reinvented the show for a 21st-century world (à la Stephen Hopkins'1998 Lost in Space) rather than clinging to the '60s references As it is he's stuck somewhere in the middle leaving adults bored during the kids-on-an-adventure bits and children mystified by the handful of jokes aimed at their parents.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
Top Story: Busta Rhymes' SUV Sprayed with Bullets
The Associated Press reports police are still looking for the suspect who fired gunshots at Busta Rhymes' black GMC Suburban Friday night after the rapper left it parked on a Manhattan street in front of his management company Violator Records. Last month, an unknown assailant also fired shots into the Violator offices. No one was injured in either shooting.
Ex-Heartbreakers Bassist Dies
Musician Howie Epstein, the former bassist for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, died in a New Mexico hospital Sunday night, Reuters reports. He was 47. Epstein was booted from the band last May due to legal and drug problems. His cause of death was not immediately known but an overdose is suspected.
George Harrison's First Guitar on Display
A small acoustic wooden guitar the late George Harrison bought in the mid-1950s went on display at the Beatles museum in Liverpool Tuesday, Reuters reports. Valued at $800,000, the guitar has been loaned indefinitely to the museum. Harrison died in November 2001 of throat cancer.
King of Pop Back in Court
According to AP, Michael Jackson filed a court injunction Monday against Martin Bashir and Granada Television to block them from releasing unused footage from their 90-minute documentary Living with Michael Jackson. Jackson and his company MJJ Productions Inc. said in a statement Monday the unseen footage should be held until wider disputes are settled--specifically whether Bashir "breached the terms on which he was permitted to film Jackson."
The "Love Rat" Sues FOX News
Princess Diana's former love, James Hewitt, known in the British tabloids as the "Love Rat," has filed a $1 million breach of contract suit against FOX News, Reuters reports. Hewitt, who is also a former British Army commander and Gulf War vet, claims he was fired as a war correspondent for the news organization after he allegedly leaked the terms of his deal to London's Daily Mirror.
MTV Nixes Rap Contest After Fans Go Haywire
MTV had to cancel their plans to hold a weeklong MC Battles rapping contest after thousands of wannabes who were lined up Monday outside Times Square in New York started pushing and shoving in the streets. Reuters reports a police statement said two police officers were injured and four people were arrested for disorderly conduct.
Pat Robertson Returns to the Pulpit
Hallelujah! A week after successful surgery to remove a cancerous prostate gland, evangelist Pat Robertson returned to spread the Word on his television program The 700 Club, AP reports. Robertson, 72, said in a statement he hopes his example will serve as a reminder to men older than 50 to get early screenings for prostate cancer.
ROLE CALL: Daniel Day-Lewis, wife Rebecca Miller Team Up; Peter O'Toole, Julie Christie Head to Troy
Variety reports Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis will join his wife, director/writer Rebecca Miller, on their first collaboration together, the family drama Rose and the Snake. Day-Lewis will play the father of a 16-year-old, both living in an abandoned commune on an island off the northwest coast of Canada. British thesps Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie join the star-studded cast of Wolfgang Petersen's Greek epic Troy, including Brad Pitt as Achilles and Orlando Bloom as Paris. According to Variety, the search to cast the part of Helen of Troy, "the face that launched 1,000 ships," is still in progress.
ROLE CALL, Part II: Rob Lowe Battles Vampires; The Witching Hour Approaches
Ex West Wing-er Rob Lowe will star in the TNT miniseries Salem's Lot, based on the Stephen King book about a small Maine town being taken over by vampires. And speaking of the supernatural, Variety reports Columbia Pictures' has two witch projects in the works--a remake of the 1942 comedy I Married a Witch, with Danny DeVito on board to helm and Tom Cruise to possibly star; and the big-screen treatment of the 1960s TV hit Bewitched, with Nicole Kidman attached to star and writer/director Nora Ephron on board to write and possibly direct.
Clint Eastwood and Oscar-winning writer Brian Helgeland will team up on an adaptation of the best-selling novel, Mystic River, for Warner Bros.
The novel, now in its ninth week on the top 10 New York Times bestseller list, follows three childhood friends whose relationship breaks apart after a tragic incident. They are brought back together 25 years later when they are all linked to a murder investigation.
Eastwood and Helgeland also are collaborating on another Warner Bros. project, the mystery/thriller Blood Work, an adaptation of a novel by Michael Connelly. Eastwood is set to produce, star and direct from Helgeland's screenplay.
Academy Award-winning scribe Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) wrote and directed the upcoming A Knight's Tale with Heath Ledger. Eastwood directed last year's hit Space Cowboys.
Tatum O'Neal is a "Scoundrel"
Making a comeback after more than a 10-year absence, Oscar-winning actress Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon) will star opposite Tim Curry (Charlie's Angels), Julian Sands and Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) in The Scoundrel's Wife, an independent project.
Set in Louisiana in 1942, a young widow (O'Neal) is suspected of helping the Germans in a small bayou town, after the German U-boats have sunk American ships.
O'Neal, divorced from ex-husband John McEnroe, returns after spending the last decade raising their children.
Hoop dreams for Lil' Bow Wow
Fourteen-year-old double platinum rap singer Lil' Bow Wow will get his feature film debut in Like Mike for 20th Century Fox.
Lil' Bow Wow will play a kid who finds a pair of magical sneakers worn by basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Suddenly, the teen is transformed into a NBA hero.
Written by Michael Elliot, the story was inspired by Lil' Bow Wow, whom Elliot met on the set of MTV's seriesHip Hopera.
"He loves basketball, loves Michael Jordan, and he's an exceptional basketball player" Elliot told Variety.
"It's every kid's dream to play in the NBA, and it's not like Big, where he becomes a man. In this case, it's more fun if he stays a kid."
Lowe gets "Framed"
Rob Lowe, hot off his acclaimed role as deputy communications director in the hit NBC drama series The West Wing, will star in the TNT original movie Framed, based on a BBC miniseries of the same name.
Lowe will play a New York detective who takes a key member of a money-laundering scheme into custody and prepares him to testify in court. Things gets complicated as the detective's strong ethical code is placed in jeopardy when the witness offers him millions of dollars to help him escape.
The film will be directed by Daniel Petrie Jr. (Toy Soldiers) and executive produced by David Brown (Along Came a Spider) and Kit Golden (Chocolat).
Foley is a "Fuddy" Duddy
NewsRadio star Dave Foley has signed to star in Fox's comedy pilot, What's Up, Peter Fuddy?, with David Steinberg set to direct and co-written by Emmy winner Jay Kogen (Frasier).
The show's premise is Truman Show-esque: a Nightline-style news show follows the daily activities of an insurance adjuster Fuddy (Foley), who is forced to appear on the show to defend his actions.
Foley re-teams with Steinberg and Kogen after working together on the comedy The Wrong Guy. The feature was never released but it won the best screenplay award at the 1999 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The pilot also stars Jamie Denbo (Lost Souls), as Fuddy's wife, and Craig Anton (The Army Show), as Fuddy's next-door neighbor.
"MiB2"'s villainous Janssen
The X-Men's heroine Famke Janssen is in negotiations to play the villainous vamp in Columbia Pictures' Men In Black 2 for director Barry Sonnenfeld.
Production is scheduled to start in June. Although the plot is under wraps, most of the original film's stars will be in the sequel, including Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as agents J and K, respectively. Janssen will play bad bombshell Serleena and Johnny Knoxville (MTV's Jackass) will be featured as a two-headed alien. The cast also includes Rosario Dawson (Josie and the Pussycats) as Smith's love interest.
"Annie" and Reba: together again
Country superstar Reba McEntire will reprise her role as Annie Oakley in a CBS-TV movie version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun.
Currently starring in the Broadway smash hit, McEntire is a perfect choice to play Annie for the CBS movie, producer Howard Braunstein told Variety. She also will executive produce the film.
Currently in development, the movie could air by the February sweeps, depending on the potential strikes. McEntire will continue with the Broadway production through May 27. She's concurrently starring in an untitled comedy pilot for the WB Network.
"Crouching Tiger" creates Chinese boom
Hot off the tremendous success of Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, co-production partner Columbia Pictures Film Production (an offshoot of Sony Pictures Entertainment) has announced plans for four pictures to go into production in 2001.
First up is Big Shot's Funeral, a comical film about a world-famous director who comes to China to make an epic about the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty (can anyone say The Last Emperor?). It will star Donald Sutherland, Ge You and Rosamund Kwan and directed by Feng Xiaogang. It will be shot in English and Chinese.
Next is another Chinese/English film, a mystery, called Double Vision starring Tony Leung, Ka Fai and David Morse (The Green Mile). The film followed the hunt for a serial killer by a determined Taiwanese police detective and an American FBI expert.
Third is an untitled action flick directed by Corey Yuen, who choreographed The X-Men and Romeo Must Die. The film will kicked it up with technological wizardry while centering on family bonds. Finally, set for production later this year is Heroes of Heaven and Earth, a Chinese-language adventure epic to be directed by He Ping and starring Jiang Wen.
Miramax wants in the "Know"
Miramax Films is negotiating to handle the North American distributions rights for Al Pacino's next film, People I Know.
The film, already in production and co-starring Kim Basinger, Tea Leoni and Ryan O'Neal, is about a New York press agent who gets into the corrupt world of politics, celebrity and illegal drugs. O'Neal plays a client, a famous actor, who is embroiled in a scandal that hurts his plans to become a senator.
Pesci as The Bull
Mafia hitman Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, to be exact.
Oscar-winner Joe Pesci is in negotiations to play the mobster for New Regency Productions. Gravano left the federal witness protection plan to go into partnership with a band of wealthy suburban kids selling ecstasy.
The film, tentatively titled Sammy the Bull, will only have Pesci's involvement if it is released as a feature film. Originally, New Regency was developing the project as a television movie.
"Bridget Jones" part II
Working Title Films, producer of the recent box office hit Bridget Jones's Diary, is already considering a sequel.
Based on Helen Fielding popular novel series, Working Title has optioned her second book Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and is negotiating with her for the screenplay.
The producers of other hits, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, have never previously made a sequel, "but when you get numbers like this, you've got to think about it," Working Title co-chairman Eric Fellner told Variety.
It is still undetermined whether Renee Zellweger will reprise her role, as well as Hugh Grant, whose smarmy character is not in the second novel.