In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.
What no "giant sea pods" this time? Instead The Invasion skews the Body Snatchers scenario by making the alien invasion a virus rather than plant life. Said virus which comes to Earth via a mysterious crash of a space shuttle is transmitted by some form of bodily fluid-to-bodily fluid connection. For example throwing up into people's faces or coffee cups is a fun way to spread the disease. The end result however is the same: Once the infected person falls asleep they undergo a transformation and wake up looking the same but are unfeeling and inhuman—and ready to organize. As the infection spreads and more and more people are altered there are a few humans left fighting for their lives including psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) and her doctor friend Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig). Carol’s only hope is to stay awake long enough to find her young son who may hold the key to stopping the devastating invasion. But we won’t tell you how. OK it has something to do with an immunity but that’s all we are going to say. Nicole Kidman has had a string of bad luck since winning that damn Oscar for The Hours. One wonders if maybe the golden statuette might actually be a curse (Cuba Gooding Jr. anyone?). Still regardless of the movie--be it Bewitched The Stepford Wives or Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus--Kidman manages to turn in a decent performance. The same goes for The Invasion. Her mother bear act is quite believable as she races to find her son (played with spunk by Jackson Bond) while trying to stay awake and pretending to be cold and unemotional among the pod people--oh excuse me the virally infected people. You root for her all the way. Craig doesn’t have as much to do but still delivers when it counts. In a supporting role Jeremy Northam does a nice job as Carol’s ex-husband a CDC doctor who is one of the first to get infected. As does the always good Jeffrey Wright as a very clever genetic scientist. Even Veronica Cartwright one of the survivors in the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers makes a cameo as one of Carol’s patients who tells her “My husband isn’t my husband!” Famous last words. Body snatching must be a popular water-cooler topic at the movie studios. Starting with the 1956 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which Kevin McCarthy barely escapes his small town with his life running into highway traffic screaming “They're here already! You're next! You're next You're next...” there have been at least two other versions including the above-mentioned 1978 film and the 1993 film Body Snatchers. To its credit The Invasion switches things up a bit nixing the pods and making it more relevant to our current socio-political climate. It even begs the question: Could we be better off if we didn’t have emotions? But the movie is still mired by its derivativeness and too-pat ending—and it also apparently had problems getting off the shelf. Originally wrapped in early 2006 rumor has it the studio didn’t like German director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s original cut and brought in Matrix’s Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski for rewrites and James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) to direct the new scenes. Again to its credit The Invasion surprisingly feels cohesive despite all the different influences. Let’s just say whoever came up with the tense car chase in which Carol tries to throw off the pod people (it's just more effective calling them that) draped all over the car kudos to them.
Top Story: Liv Tyler's Newest Ring Is a Wedding Band
Liv Tyler, the daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, has added a new rocker to her life. The Associated Press reports Tyler wed longtime boyfriend Royston Langdon, lead singer and bassist of the band Spacehog, in a private ceremony at a villa in the Caribbean on March 25. Tyler's publicist said Wednesday the couple is planning a small reception for family and friends next month in New York. It is the first marriage for Tyler, 25, and the British-born Langdon, 30. The actress, who has starred in Armageddon, Inventing the Abbotts and That Thing You Do!, plays elf Arwen in Peter Jackson's epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
"War" Singer Edwin Starr Dies
Motown legend Edwin Starr, whose 1970 No. 1 Grammy-winning hit "War" denounced war as good for "absolutely nothing," died of a heart attack at his home in central England, Reuters reports. He was 61. "I am absolutely saddened and shaken up by his death. He was performing right until the end," his manager, Lilian Kyle, said Wednesday. Starr himself served in the U.S. army for three years before embarking on a career in music.
Bruckheimer and WB Ink Multimillion-Dollar Deal
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has signed a four-year deal that will keep him at Warner Bros. TV through May 2007, Variety reports. Financial details of the complicated pact were not immediately available, but industry insiders said the deal guaranteed Bruckheimer and Bruckheimer Television at least $10 million over four years and covers drama, comedy and reality programming. Bruckheimer, who has managed to translate his big-screen success to primetime, produces the hit CBS shows CSI: Miami and Without a Trace.
MTV Reunites with Tom Green
MTV, which releases a new series nearly every three weeks, has greenlighted two new projects as part of their lengthy development slate, The Hollywood Reporter reports. Beginning June 16,Tom Green will return to the network in a late-night talk show that will invite viewers into his personal life. The second series, which will premiere in August, will feature married performers who were big during MTV's boy-band phase. Nick Lachey of the group 98 Degrees and singer Jessica Simpson will open their home to MTV's cameras to document their first year of marriage.
Linkin Park Debuts at No. 1 on Billboard
Linkin Park's Meteora crashed into the Billboard 200 at No.1, selling 810,000 copies in the U.S. for the week ending March 30, according to Nielsen SoundScan data issued on Wednesday. Despite being released in conjunction with the start of her much-hyped Las Vegas production, Celine Dion's One Heart came is second with 432,000 copies sold. Meteora also beat out debuts from Brian McKnight, the Diplomats and the 12th edition of the Now That's What I Call Music! compilation series, Reuters reports.
Radiohead Tracks Leaked Online
Tracks from Radiohead's upcoming album Hail to the Thief, which comes out June 10, have been leaked on to the Internet. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood said the versions constitute "work we've not finished, being released in this sloppy way, 10 weeks before the real version is even available. It doesn't even exist as a record yet." A source told Billboard.com that album producer Nigel Godrich reviewed the files that are circulating and confirmed they may date from as far back as the first day of mixing. In the past two days, EMI has sent cease-and-desist orders to a number of individuals who were hosting the files on their personal Web pages.
"Potter" Prevails Over "Grotter"
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling won a court battle Thursday to block the Dutch publication of a Russian novel about a girl wizard called Tanya Grotter, Reuters reports. Grotter author Dmitry Yemets, who has sold more than 500,000 books in Russia, said his book, The Magic Double Bass, was a parody of the Potter novels and trusted his readers could tell the difference between the two. But the court said in a written ruling that the Russian book was an unauthorized adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and its publication in the Netherlands would infringe Rowling's copyright.
Role Call: Urban Joins "Pitch Black" Sequel, Cheadle Set for "Nixon"
Karl Urban, who plays Eomer in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, has joined the cast of the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles of Riddick, which stars Vin Diesel, Judi Dench and Colm Feore. The second installment, written and directed by David Twohy, finds Riddick, now a hunted man, in the middle of two opposing forces in a major crusade. The project begins June 9 in Vancouver ... Don Cheadle, meanwhile, is negotiating to star opposite Sean Penn in The Assassination of Richard Nixon for writer-director Niels Mueller. The film centers on the true story of a Philadelphia furniture salesman who hatches a plot to kill Richard Nixon.