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Long emancipated from its reputation as the place where has-beens go for one last snag at the limelight, television is attracting big screen folks at the top of their games. A new league of blockbuster movie stars, admired thespians, and Oscar-nominated filmmakers alike are flocking to the comforts of premium cable, all with intriguing projects in tow. Here are a few big name figures taking to the TV game with promising prospects.
Who's that again? The guy who directed Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, The Fountain, and NoahWhat's he working on? MaddAddam, an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's speculative sci-fi novel trilogy (Oryx and Crake, Year Of The Flood, and MaddAddam).For whom? HBO.What's the deal? The story depicts a dystopian future in which genetic engineering has swept the human race. Aronofsky might direct, and is executive producing with his fiancée Brandi-Ann Milbradt and regular collaborator Ari Handel.[Deadline]
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.
Who's that again? Iron Man.What's he working on? An untitled drama about a drug rehab community set in 1980s Venice Beach.For whom? Showtime.What's the deal? Downey obviously has personal ties to the project considering his history with drug abuse; he and his wife Susan are producing, and Orange Is the New Black writer Gary Lennon is handling the script (so we can expect some wit).[Deadline]
WENN/Adriana M. Barraza
Who's that again? Walter White from Breaking Bad, Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, or Tim Whatley from Seinfeld, and President Lyndon Johnson on ol' Broadway.What's he working on? A narrative adaptation of the Conn and Hal Iggulden book Dangerous Book for Boys.For whom? No word just yet.What's the deal? Although the Igguldens' book takes form as a "how to" manual of sorts, Cranston's television series will draw a narrative out of the variety of rituals established as recommended rites of passage for American youngsters.[Variety]
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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
When Neil Patrick Harris was playing a new father in The Smurfs, he felt like the autenthicity of his performance was anchored down by one small fact: he didn't actually have any kids. But since production ended on the first film, the actor's family has expanded to include 2-year-old twins, which he told Hollywood.com on the set of The Smurfs 2 made filming the sequel a whole lot easier. "That little nagging voice in my head saying that I'm not believable isn't really there anymore, because I'm more like the character," Harris said.
In talking about his children, the actor expressed that he's not that concerned with sheltering his kids from certain content. He'd rather show them what's going on in real life and explain it to them when they have questions. Furthermore, Harris doesn't think being a father will affect his choices as an actor. He's going to do what interests him artistically, and if his kids have questions, he'll answer them. "I don't think it'll stop me from doing, you know, soft core porn," he joked. "I'll just eliminate my middle name. Then they won't be able to find it on YouTube."
While porn is probably not actually in Harris' future, one of the reasons we love him is because of his versatility. From The Smurfs to How I Met Your Mother to hosting the Tonys, Harris knows how to entertain on every level.
And speaking of the Tonys, Harris says planning for the show is just as hectic as we might imagine. "An exorbitant amount of effort went into the Tonys," he said. Much of the planning had to happen via FaceTime chats because he still had to be on the Smurfs set. He spent about two weeks multitasking before it was all done. "It's hard to concentrate on two big things at one time," he said, "especially when that one's like the ball in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's coming at you with gaining momentum, and you can't stop it. But it turned out well."
Of course it turned out well. How can you not love him as the host? The Tonys without Neil Patrick Harris would be like Smurfs that aren't blue.
Now that Broadway's awards season is over, Harris is fully focused on The Smurfs 2. He said the whole cast feels more confident with this one. They know what the computer-animated graphics look like now, so filming to invisible things that don't exist became much easier. And if this film is as successful as the first, Harris said he would be interested in doing a third movie as well — even if he has no idea what it would be about. "I don't know what that story would be," he said. "Maybe in the third movie, we'll all be different people. We'll be the Smurfs. I don't know. Who knows?"
Harris even has a plan if he ends up playing a Smurf one day. "Who would be my Smurf? I could be Magical Smurf, with a bag of magic tricks."
Whether it's magic tricks or movie magic, Harris never fails to warm our hearts and make us smile. So if you're in need of a dose of adorable fatherhood, see Harris in The Smurfs 2 this July.
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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.