Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be.
The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline
We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them.
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Still, the flying horse is pretty cool.
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When retired U.S. Special Forces Soldier Chris Vaughn (Johnson) returns to Kipsat County Wash. it's only to find his hometown overrun with crime drugs and violence. The old mill where Chris's father (John Beasley) worked for most of his life is closed and the town's only thriving industry is the Wild Cherry casino. Even Chris' high school sweetie Deni (Ashley Scott) couldn't resist the Wild Cherry's lure; she's become a peepshow dancer to "pay the bills." But Chris really loses it when he discovers the casino's dealers are using loaded dice--and he starts a brawl that ends with the security team carving up his chest and abdomen with a rusty Exacto knife. Chris also learns that that his old high school rival the casino's owner Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) has transformed the mill into a crystal meth lab and is using the casino's menacing security staff to sell the drugs to innocent kids. Chris strikes back by running for sheriff firing the entire police department on his first day and with the help of a cedar two-by-four and his deputy and buddy Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville) restores peace to the Pacific Northwest.
Johnson looking buffer than ever is well cast in the role of Chris: He's a fearless and determined soldier with beyond-human fighting skills. But while the film takes advantage of Johnson's brawn it fails to take advantage of his brain. In last year's comedy The Rundown Johnson proved he was more than a muscle-bound action star; he oozed charm and was surprisingly witty. With Walking Tall he never gets a chance to flex his acting muscles; if anything they atrophy. The only skills Johnson gets to show off are his ability to swing a plank at someone's shins and his unique way of bashing skulls against slot machines. Johnson's sidekick Ray played by Knoxville of MTV's Jackass fame is an ex-junkie who after spending a couple of years in the slammer is content with living in a camper and doing odd jobs around town. With his scraggly appearance and klutzy demeanor Knoxville supplies the film with brief interludes of humor amid the slam fest including a scene in which he stabs a bad guy with a potato peeler. Johnson and Knoxville would have made a first-rate action team had they had more screen time together.
A WWE production with Vince McMahon serving as executive producer Walking Tall has none of the subtlety of director Kevin Bray's last film All About the Benjamins and all the elements of a wrestling match. As with wrestling the film begins by melodramatically establishing the story (Chris and his family's lives are devastated by the mill's closure) and just like rival pugilists who publicly taunt the favored wrestler Chris challenges Jay--not for the world title but at least for control of Kipsat County--in a never-ending battle between good and evil that mimics wrestling to a T. But what's entertaining in the ring doesn't translate to film especially when the good guy running the town is a maniacal meathead. Chris is supposed to be the protagonist who single-handedly saves the town but who's responding to the citizens' domestic violence calls for example when the sheriff fires the entire precinct and spends 24 hours a day casing the casino? Never mind the fact that he has sex with his girlfriend in his office while he's on the clock.
Top Story: "EW" Names Chris Rock Funniest Man in America
Comedian, actor and writer Chris Rock has been named the funniest man in America by Entertainment Weekly in the magazine's March 19 issue. Rock began performing in Manhattan comedy clubs as a teenager and by 1987 had made an early TV appearance on the HBO special Uptown Comedy Express--the same year the comedian made his feature film debut as a parking valet in Beverly Hills Cop II. But it was during his three-year stint on NBC's Saturday Night Live that people really took note. Rock, 39, is now on his Black Ambition Tour, which will culminate in his fourth HBO special set to air April 17. "Watching Rock in 2004--21 years into his comedy career--is like watching a great prize-fighter in peak condition," the magazine said. Also gracing the list of the 25 funniest Americans are Jon Stewart, Will Ferrell, Larry David, Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Murray, Jim Carrey and Jack Black.
"Wardrobe Malfunction" Invades English Language
The Global Language Monitor, a group that analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on culture, declared "wardrobe malfunction" as Hollywood's Top Word or Phrase for Impact on the English language. The phrase became famous after Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson's bustier during the Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show, revealing her right breast, later calling it a "wardrobe malfunction." Other words or phrases on the group's "HollyWord LingoList" include "Bootylicious," "extreme makeover," "Gigli" (as in "gigli bad"), "Give it up!" (replaces "please applaud for"), "Governator" (as in CAH-lee-FOR-nee-ah Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger), "snap" (from Freaky Friday, meaning very cool), and "Smiths" (to lack individuality, like the multi-duplicated agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded).
Russell Crowe's Cinderella Man Gets Pushed Back
Universal Pictures has delayed the release of Russell Crowe's boxing drama Cinderella Man until Mar. 18, 2005, claiming it needs more time to mount a marketing campaign. The film was originally set for release on Dec. 17 of this year. Cinderella Man, which reunites Crowe with A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, had been considered a potential Oscar contender in the 2004 race, but now it will have to take aim at the 2005 contest instead. "Certainly, the May release of Gladiator and our experiences with Erin Brockovich and last year with Seabiscuit prove that there is no dedicated season for high-caliber films," a studio representative told The Hollywood Reporter of the fact that the project will be released in March rather than the fourth quarter preferred by Oscar fodder.
Sex Outfits Sell Like Hot Pants
Hundreds of size "2" women lined up outside the New York consignment shop Ina on Thursday to fight for castoff clothes from the trend-setting HBO series Sex and the City, which ended last month after a six-season run. Most of the items available were purchased by the show's costumers but never used. The priciest item was a black sequined Chanel minidress priced at $5,000, while a pair of red silk hot pants went for a mere $70, Reuters reports. But Carrie's beloved Manolo Blahnik stilettos were nowhere to be seen: Many of the show's signature outfits have already been claimed by cast members, while other pieces were auctioned by the cable network for the actresses' favorite charities.
Judge in Jackson Case Keeps Audiotapes Secret
On Thursday, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville kept sealed an audiotape that apparently contains defense interviews with Michael Jackson's accuser and his family, but allowed prosecutors to see videotapes he called "innocuous," The Associated Press reports. The judge said the audiotape, which is of an interview conducted early last year by an investigator for defense attorney Mark Geragos, could identify areas of defense strategy and should remain secret. Melville added, "the persons interviewed are equally available to the prosecution. Jackson pleaded innocent on Jan. 16 to seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. He's free on $3 million bail.
R. Kelly's Sex Photos Inadmissible in Court
A Florida judge ruled yesterday that sex photos were illegally seized from the Florida home of R. Kelly and cannot be used as evidence in his child pornography trial, Reuters reports. Prosecutors in central Florida charged the R&B singer with 12 counts of possessing child pornography in January 2003, based on digital photos that Polk County deputies said showed him engaged in sex acts with a girl under the age of 18. Kelly, whose first name is Robert, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from a 26-minute videotape that allegedly depicted the singer in sex acts with a girl who police say was 14 at the time. Kelly has denied the charges and is out on bail awaiting trial.
Rodney Dangerfield Finally Gets Respect
Fox Television has secured rights to Rodney Dangerfield's upcoming HarperCollins autobiography, It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs, the AP reports. "I'm excited that Fox is making a movie on my life story, but I hope they do it soon! I'm 82 years old," the "No Respect" comic said in a statement Wednesday. "At my age, I'm looking for a one-night sit! I'm thrilled about finishing my first book. Now I'm going to read another one."
David Crosby Denounced Drug Use Prior to Arrest
Singer David Crosby, who was arrested March 7 in New York on marijuana and gun possession charges, told The Frederick News-Post February in an interview published yesterday that he was through with drugs. "I haven't been tempted by that stuff for 15 years. You get past it," said Crosby, who was to perform in Frederick, Md. today. "When I really got toasted towar