Though Garry Marshall hasn’t made a decent flick since 1990’s Pretty Woman he still apparently wields a not inconsiderable amount of clout in Hollywood. What else could explain the all-star ensemble of actors who gathered for Valentine’s Day? Among the major names found probing the turgid depths of the nearly 80-year-old director’s insipid rom-com are Julia Roberts Anne Hathaway Ashton Kutcher Jessica Alba Jamie Foxx Jessica Biel Taylor Lautner and various other prominent actors who either owe favors to Marshall or whose incriminating photos he holds in his possession.
A slice-of-life tale unfolding in Los Angeles over the course of a single Valentine’s Day the film chronicles the romantic adventures of a diverse cast of characters at various stages of relationships and encompassing virtually every conceivable demographic category. Their ages backgrounds and perspectives often dramatically differ but they each share one trait in common: Almost without exception they are all ceaselessly painfully disastrously unfunny.
Some temper their dishumor with a dose of the annoying like Kutcher whose dopey florist Marshall unwisely chose to anchor Valentine’s Day’s story around. Others add a dash of the preposterous like Roberts dressed in military fatigues in a laughable attempt to play a U.S. Army Captain on leave from the front. Still others add cloying sentiment to the mix like Bryce Robinson’s lovelorn 10-year-old whose grandparents played by Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo ply him with nostalgic romantic tips pre-fabricated for maximum inter-generational cuteness. Whatever your preferred method of cinematic torture may be you’ll undoubtedly encounter it in this film.
In addition to challenging the pain threshold Valentine’s Day offers a test of endurance as well its story requiring over two hours to satisfy the narrative demands of its swollen cast. If you didn’t despise Hallmark’s ersatz holiday before you certainly will after enduring this Bataan Death March of rom-coms.
As dean of a small college Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) has made a nice life for himself--until a false accusation of racism ruins his career and he loses his wife to a brain aneurysm. Suddenly Coleman has nothing--until he embarks on an intensely sexual relationship with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) a local woman with an abusive ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) who won't leave her alone. The intensity of Coleman's love for Faunia leads him to reveal his long-held secret: He has been passing himself off as Jewish and white for most of his adult life but in reality he is a light-skinned African-American. From there a series of flashbacks to the 1940s introduce us to a younger love-struck Coleman (Wentworth Miller) and reveal the events that led him to his fateful decision. Somehow Coleman's deep dark secret isn't as shocking as it's probably meant to be but the relationship between Faunia and Coleman is--especially when it slips into the danger zone with Lester breathing down their necks.
Wentworth Miller who makes his film debut as the younger Coleman does an amazing job with his role establishing Coleman's quiet yet fierce determination to live a life free of intolerance. And as ever Hopkins is the consummate professional with flashes of intense passion and brilliance in his steely eyes. One does have to get over the fact that a Welsh actor has been cast as an elderly light-skinned African-American but if Hopkins can give nuance to a declaration of how Viagra has changed his character's life (ick) he can pull off the race thing easily enough. Kidman as the dour Faunia also has some stunning moments easily sinking to the depressive depths required of her character--not surprising considering she won the Oscar doing the same thing in The Hours. What really makes you clench your teeth though is when the two of them get together on screen--in the biblical sense. These Oscar winners are so sorely miscast as tortured lovebirds that their sexual moments make you squirm in your seat. It's not the age difference; there's simply no spark between them.
"We leave a stain a trail and imprint " Philip Roth writes in his novel the third in a trilogy on postwar America. "It's the only way to be here." The author goes on to explore myriad themes around this main premise including how we leave our marks how our decisions have consequences and how people can find one another under the direst circumstances. Unfortunately these big ideas get lost in translation on the big screen and the film suffers from adaptation blues. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer gives Roth's ideas voice only through Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) the reclusive author Coleman asks to write his life story and even that artistic character talks more about how sex is clouding Coleman's judgment than about his own life or ideology. Ultimately Meyer focuses his script too heavily on the guarded Coleman leaving the other characters too little developed. Why has Nathan secluded himself away from the world? What haunts him? Sinise does what he can with the character but there's too little background. The same goes for Faunia. Although she describes in one monologue after another the horrors of her life--she was abused as a girl and lost her two children in a terrible fire--Faunia's hardships seem distant and it's hard to connect with her character. Only the wounded Lester a Vietnam veteran seems made of real emotions and desires--he's filled with hatred and passion--and if he makes only a brief appearance in the film he certainly leaves a mark.
Like father, like son?
Tom Hanks paid his dues toiling in such lowbrow fare as Bachelor Party, The Man With One Red Shoe and Volunteers before morphing into the James Stewart of our age.
Colin Hanks seems intent on following the same path that his father took in the 1980s. His film resume includes supporting turns in two ignored high school-set comedies, the painstakingly mediocre Whatever It Takes and the surprisingly charming Get Over It.
For his first starring role, Hanks stars in yet another teen angst-ridden farce, Orange County. Ironically, at the helm of this messy MTV production is another Hollywood hopeful trying to escape the shadow of a famous father, Jake Kasdan. The son of director Lawrence Kasdan, of The Big Chill and Silverado fame, Jake Kasdan's previous directorial effort was the little-seen black comedy Zero Effect with Ben Stiller and Bill Pullman.
Hanks spends much of his time in Orange County tearing out his hair as a high school grad who throws down his surfboard to pursue his newfound dream of becoming a writer. All seems lost when Hanks fails to get into Stanford University, where he wants to study under an author whose writing inspires him to pick up pen and paper.
MTV continues to blitz its audience with promos for Orange County, but it's unlikely that the film's few genuinely funny scenes will be enough to help MTV score another hit on the scale of last January's extremely earnest Save the Last Dance ($91 million). Nor does it help that the likes of John Lithgow, Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, Catherine O'Hara and Garry Marshall are shamelessly squandered.
Hanks, whose stock rose after appearing in HBO's critically acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers, is not the reason why Orange County should enjoy a modest opening of at least $10 million. The film's not-so secret weapon is Jack Black, whose Shallow Hal recently earned $68.8 million. Orange County will prove an interesting test of Black's newfound popularity. The ads place much prominence on Black, but he does not emerge as much of a comic presence until midway through Orange County, when Hanks and brother Black hit the road and head to Stanford University.
This week's sole new wide release, Orange County won't pose much of a threat to reigning champion The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. With $211.3 million through Wednesday, director Peter Jackson's fantasy epic is likely surpass Rush Hour 2's $226.1 million this weekend, to become New Line's biggest grossing film domestically. That alone justifies New Line giving Jackson $270 million and two years to film J.R.R. Tolkien's literary trilogy. This first chapter looks set to equal New Line's expenditure by its lonesome, and should cross $300 million with the assistance of a few Golden Globe wins and its likely Oscar nods.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring also will likely enjoy its last week at the top of the box office. Black Hawk Down, director Ridley Scott's bloody account of the U.S. soldiers under fire in Somalia in 1993, will go wide Jan. 18 after earning $558,812 in two weekends at a mere four theaters in New York and Los Angeles.
A Beautiful Mind hardly went to waste as the Russell Crowe drama capitalized on great reviews and a terrific $18.6 million in limited release during the holidays. The Ron Howard-directed biography of mentally ill mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. earned $16.5 million last weekend after expanding from 525 theaters to 1,853 theaters, and has $41.8 million through Wednesday. With little competition this weekend, A Beautiful Mind should reap another $13 million, laying down the foundations for a long and healthy run through the end of the Oscar season.
The same goes for The Royal Tenenbaums. Director Wes Anderson's dysfunctional family comedy expanded last weekend from 291 theaters to 751 theaters, with earnings jumping from $4.9 million to $8.5 million. Anderson should relish The Royal Tenenbaums's $22.9 million total through Wednesday, considering his last film, Rushmore, stalled at $17 million in 1998 despite excellent reviews.
Ali, though, looks less and less like an Oscar heavyweight with each passing day. The Muhammad Ali biography is proving no match for rivals A Beautiful Mind and The Royal Tenenbaums following its record $10.2 million Christmas Day opening. Its total through Wednesday is $50.8 million, with only the prospect of a potential Oscar nomination for Will Smith and the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend rush likely to push Ali to more than $70 million.
The first wide release of 2002 also ranks as the year's first flop. The oft-delayed Impostor, a sci-fi thriller based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, failed to crack the top 10 last weekend after taking a weak $3 million at 1,616 theaters.
Impostor's failure does not come as a surprise. Dimension originally scheduled the alien terrorist-themed Impostor for August 2000 before putting it on the shelf for almost 18 months. Still, Impostor's fate should seem all the more hurtful for director Gary Fleder, who expanded Impostor from a 30-minute segment of The Light Years Trilogy into a full-length feature at Dimension's request.
A handful of holiday holdovers continue to capture the nation's attention.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--now Warner Bros. biggest grosser in the United State--became the first film since 1999's Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace to make more than $300 million domestically. Harry Potter, with $301.3 million through Wednesday, now ranks as the 10th top-grossing film in the United States.
The apprentice wizard still has enough magic at his disposal to fly past The Lion King ($312.9 million), Return of the Jedi ($309.1 million) and Independence Day ($306.2 million) to capture the No. 7 spot. This should please director Chris Columbus, who recently saw Harry Potter supplant Home Alone ($285.8 million) as his top grosser.
Las Vegas remains under the control of Ocean's Eleven. The star-studded crime caper has $153.5 million through Tuesday. This could mark the first film from star George Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh to steal off with $200 million.
The jump from Nickelodeon to movie theaters paid off for Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The animated adventure soared past $63 million on Tuesday, with the smart pre-teen destined to make more than the last Nickelodeon spin-off, 2000's Rugrats in Paris ($76.5 million).
Despite its critical drubbing, Vanilla Sky resists falling too hard, too fast. Tom Cruise's star power can only explain why this bewildering remake of Open Your Eyes has $82.9 million through Wednesday. Still, after last weekend's modest $7.1 million haul, Vanilla Sky might not have the pull to become Cruise's ninth film to make more than $100 million.
Kate & Leopold looks set this weekend to become Meg Ryan's biggest hit since You've Got Mail posted $115.8 million in 1998. Not that this is much to crow about. The hackneyed time-traveling romance, co-starring Hugh Jackman, has a lowly $32 million through Wednesday. Ryan's 2000 releases, Hanging Up ($36 million) and Proof of Life ($32.5 million), did not do much to enhance her stature at the box office. Still, Kate & Leopold could woo at least $45 million from undemanding couples.
A handful of films in limited release are keeping art-houses busy.
A thinking man's Death Wish, In the Bedroom has amassed $4.2 million. Robert Altman's murder mystery Gosford Park, featuring the likes of Maggie Smith and Emily Watson, has $2.1 million. Gosford Park will expand to 500 theaters after earning a promising $1.2 million last weekend in 131 theaters.
Miramax tentatively tests the water this weekend as it expands Lasse Hallstrom's The Shipping News from 213 to 300 theaters. Miramax used the same platform release strategy with Hallstrom's previous Oscar-nominated literary adaptations The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, but audiences have yet to embrace The Shipping News with the same enthusiasm. So far, The Shipping News has earned a so-so $4.2 million.
The Cider House Rules and Chocolat earned a combined 12 Oscar nominations, with The Cider House Rules notching two wins, for Miramax. But Miramax is better off throwing its marketing muscle behind In the Bedroom and Amelie ($17.6 million) in this year's Oscar race.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx, the dreary The Shipping News seems as cold and uninviting as the Newfoundland town that cuckolded sad-sack Kevin Spacey flees to with his daughter and aunt (Judi Dench). Nothing much seems to happen for a tale that unbelievably throws fatal car wrecks, bodies lost at sea, pirates and incest together in one heaping of small-town hooey.
So don't expect The Shipping News to do for seal-flipper pie as Sleepless in Seattle did for tiramisu.
A mild-mannered ink setter Quoyle's (Kevin Spacey) woeful existence is turned on its head by the promiscuous Petal (Cate Blanchett) who suddenly marries Quoyle and bears his daughter Bunny. Finding marital life boring Petal eventually runs away selling Bunny on the black market to fund her escape. (Petal dies in a car accident but Quoyle manages to retrieve his daughter.) Mired in a depression due to Petal's betrayal Quoyle's life takes a turn for the worse: his father passes away his long-lost Aunt Agnes (Judi Dench) shows up and the newly formed family (aunt father and daughter) head off to the aunt's windswept childhood home in Newfoundland. Once there Quoyle and his aunt must find work to pay for restoring the old family home and Quoyle restarts his life as a reporter for the local paper. Over the course of the next few months Quoyle has to face his own past his present difficulties and desires his dark family secrets and his fear of the sea all on the way to personal redemption and revivification.
Fine performances abound in this ensemble piece. Spacey plays the lead in perfect passivity; his almost abject terror that his daughter has inherited his "outcast" genes that will doom her to a life of misery like his own is tangible. For all her bluster Dench's Aunt Agnes is betrayed by her past which palpably haunts her many years later. The incandescent Blanchett sets the screen on fire with her portrayal of Quoyle's predatory wife Petal an unrepentant gum-snapping trashy siren and serial kept woman. Julianne Moore--as the life-battered Wavey Prouse who's the object of Quoyle's intermittent courtship in Newfoundland--turns in a some finely tuned timidity echoing that of Spacey's. A fine actor Scott Glenn isn't pushed in the undemanding role of Buggit the paper's publisher. And while Pete Postlethwaite Rhys Ifans and Gordon Pinsent are given little to do other than act like a less-physical version of the Three Stooges Jason Behr (UPN's Roswell) is electric as Buggit's estranged carpenter son.
It's become a December tradition like exchanging gifts under a tree. Lasse Hallstrom has produced yet another holiday movie that should get serious Academy consideration following in the footsteps of The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000). Unfortunately The Shipping News based on the novel by E. Annie Proulx may not be quite as strong as his past two; it lacks a certain subtlety and delicate touch. Also given the lack of a clear message (pro-choice in Cider House pro-tolerance in Chocolat) the pacing of the story lacks a central core and the film meanders slowly to the final scene. Even if this isn't Hallstrom's strongest work it's clear that Lasse knows how to effectively weave a story on screen.