Less Transformers more Act of Valor director Peter Berg's Battleship is a bombastic idiotic and ear canal-shattering love letter to the Navy slathered with a summer blockbuster sugarcoating that sufficiently masks any glimmer of heart. Following suit with their previous adaptation Transformers toy company Hasbro has transformed their popular board game into a sci-fi action movie as stiff and lifeless as the plastic pieces used to play. The saving grace is Berg's fondness for the ridiculous injecting Top Gun-level machismo into his tale of aliens vs. boats. Silliness is cinematic buoyancy for a movie as lazy as Battleship.
Continually finding himself in trouble's way roughneck Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch of TV's Friday Night Lights and John Carter) enlists in the U.S. Navy alongside his boy scout brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård) and under the supervision of his lady friend Sam's (Brooklyn Decker) overbearing father Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Alex works his way up the chain of command quickly earning the rank of Lieutenant just in time for the annual competitive skirmish with the Japanese Navy. It's all fun and games until — per usual — aliens drop down from the stars and wreak havoc on Hawaii. With most of the fleet trapped on the outskirts thanks to a ship-proof forcefield Alex is forced to command his own ship and take down the intergalactic adversaries with old school style. Discombobulated radar in alien waters means Alex and his team are shooting blind — will B11 be a hit or a miss?
Kitsch spends most of his time rubbing shoulders with Petty Officer 'Weps' (Rihanna) and the rest of his diligent crew whipping up ways to defeat the alien forces who only go on the offensive when attacked. That's just the beginning of the storytelling's illogic moment after moment favoring Michael Bay-inspired mayhem and tensionless spats of screaming aboard the ship's bridge over coherency. There's an Independence Day-inspired moment where an alien creature palms Kitsch's face unleashing imagery of their devastated home planet to his mind. Maybe? That never comes back and an explanation of why the aliens are here why we're fighting them or if they're really that bad at all never comes into play. Kitsch and his men just know the world's under attack and we have to blow the opposition to smithereens.
Ensuring attentive brains are never too focused the perspective in Battleship is ever-shifting jumping from Alex's Destroyer to Sam and her paraplegic rehab patient Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales together on the run from alien ground troops. Around Battleship's halfway point when the duo partners with a twitchy scientist (Hamish Linklater) and Mick rises above his disability to beat the living daylights out of an extraterrestrial is when Berg throws his hands in the air stops caring and pulls out all the stops. Giant alien roller balls that rip up everything in their path? Check. Bouncing space ships that can only be combated using water displacement theory? Check. Navy vets returning for one…last…job? Check check. Before the finale of this 131 minute monstrosity Kitsch and his Japanese counterpart Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) sit down to play an actual game of Battleship. Sure it's with actual missiles but there's a grid there's a target and there's shouting out of corresponding numbers. For those worried about board game fan service it's there (but don't sit around waiting for the infamous tagline).
Unlike his turn in John Carter Kitsch is perfectly suited for the bro atmosphere of Battleship where every moment of drama begs for hammy delivery and crazy eyes. Decker too is an asset to the overly epic blockbuster — a step up from the reductive arm candy roles of the Transformers movies. Everyone else is barely a blip on the radar; Neeson is deprived of a single badass moment while Rihanna proves she can memorize and playback scripted lines as well as pop song lyrics. Berg has control of his action in a way that's more enjoyable than the previous Transformers films but it still plays like a tired clone. The initial two-thirds of Battleship that takes itself too seriously is exhausting. The final barrage is pure lunacy. Whether you can stay afloat for that long is the true test of heroism.
There are two ways to judge Dan Rush's directorial debut Everything Must Go. You can look at the film itself and/or you can grade star Will Ferrell’s performance. To explain my rating I would give the actual film 4 stars while Ferrell’s performance earns a solid 5. Since they go hand in hand the average represents my rating: 4.5 stars.
The film follows Ferrell as a recovering alcoholic who relapses
after losing his job. He comes home to find that his wife has left him and
put all of his stuff on their front lawn prompting his decision to live on his yard. But local laws prohibit that (and some
neighbors don’t approve) so he is forced to turn the whole thing into a yard sale within
five days. If you can spot the metaphor between the things on the lawn
and his troubles congrats! You’ve cleared Metaphors 101. We’ll cover
similes next week. Anyway living on the lawn causes Ferrell to look
back and ponder over his life decisions. Helping him along the way is
newcomer Christopher Wallace (Biggie’s son) the precocious child that
helps teach him a lesson. Again a more overused cliche couldn’t be
found but it’s done right and Wallace is a joy to watch on screen.
Rebecca Hall as the pregnant neighbor who befriends Ferrell while he's camping on the lawn is a pleasant surprise as well holding her own against the star's incredible energy.
On Ferrell’s performance: It's by no means revolutionary for the craft of acting but is a breakout turn for the funny man. A more traditional dramatic actor could’ve lazily walked through the script and come out fine on the other end but Ferrell's portrayal is stark raw and real. You know the Will Ferrell scream? Imagine someone doing that not because it's funny but because it's their only means of expressing emotion. That’s what he does in this movie. He took the energy he employs in his comedies to reach new manic heights and channeled it into the darkest corners of the human psyche. The closest thing we can compare it to is Stranger Than Fiction since it's his only other dramatic role worthy of note (in that it's something most people know about and can compare to) but that film had a strong narrative hook that took care of all the whimsy so Ferrell could just be “normal.” Everything Must Go doesn’t have the benefit of that hook so Ferrell jumps headfirst into the pits of human emotion. I highly doubt it’ll garner him any award nominations but it was pleasing to see that he can actually act. And in hindsight it makes the crazy Ferrell that much funnier.
Onto the actual film: a fairly standard black comedy and that is by no means an insult. Standard can be good as long as it’s handled well and director Rush treads through the narrative carefully. The story jumps around a bit as the characters get the inspiration they need to move on to the next plot point awfully quickly but that affords cinematographer Michael Barrett more time to capture the beautiful South West landscape. Though there isn’t anything amazing about the film it is solid movie executed really well. A refreshing change of pace for Ferrell and a delightfully dark change of mood in the doldrums of the summer blockbuster.
Starting near the end of his short 24-year life and then told in flashback this film version of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Wallace’s (Jamal Woolard) rapid rise from the streets of Brooklyn to fame is told in standard-issue Hollywood biopic style. We see this Catholic honors student (played by his real life son Christopher Jordan Wallace) become a teenage drug dealer and accidental father before a chance recording finds its way to Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) who engineers an almost immediate rise to fame fortune -- and trouble. “Biggie” now must juggle his newfound recording career a marriage to fellow artist Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) his romantic encounters with female rap comer L’il Kim (Naturi Naughton) and a major East Coast/West Coast rivalry with Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) that leads to tragedy for both. As Wallace Brooklyn rapper Woolard is almost indistinguishable from the real man himself. He’s completely convincing performing B.I.G’s biggie hits and proves himself to be a first-rate dramatic actor as well -- at least in a story like this that he can clearly relate to. As his mother Angela Bassett makes the most of limited screen time (despite top billing) and expertly conveys the angst of a parent fighting a losing battle for her son. Luke again shows why he is so promising playing Puffy with just the right amount of flash and supreme confidence. Unfortunately the “balanced” portrait of Combs and many others in B.I.G’s life is tainted by the fact this film was produced by some of the real life players including his managers mother and executive producer Combs. George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) directs this by-the-numbers account of Biggie’s life in a style we have seen countless times before. Except for a couple of occasions he doesn’t even let the rap sequences play out to give us an idea of how this guy whose songs reflected his rough Brooklyn lifestyle could climb to the top so fast. Whatever was special is lost in what appears to be a brazen attempt to sell soundtrack albums.
The Hoover household is something of an insane asylum but nobody would ever knowingly hurt anyone except him- or herself. Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a deluded optimist and motivational speaker who only motivates himself. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) unwittingly reinforces his behavior by placating him and hiding her frustration. Sheryl’s dad (Alan Arkin) an acid-tongued old-timer who’s hooked on heroin and brother (Steve Carell) a gay suicidal Proust scholar who is the epitome of the “crazy uncle” cliché are also aboard the crazy train. Richard and Sheryl’s son Dwayne (Paul Dano) is a Nietzsche follower who only communicates with his family by writing. Then there’s the daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) the family’s glue. All she wants is to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant so the Hoovers all load their baggage onto the family’s VW bus--which barely runs--and embark on a long bumpy ride to California.
If only there were a Best Ensemble Oscar Sunshine’s cast would…get snubbed for being too quirky but still. And by constantly upstaging one another the actors may have further hurt their chances. It is this no ego effect however that is central to the movie’s theme and success. While all the performances are nothing short of superb the three showstoppers are Collette Carell and Breslin. Aussie Collette continues her brilliantly understated career with this turn as a well-meaning Everymom who ultimately only wants to nurture her family. Carell perhaps the only one with a fighting chance at an Oscar nod shows us why he’s really a megastar: he can act with a complete about-face from his usual roles as evidence. (Lest we forget this is a guy who up until recently was a fake-news correspondent!) And Breslin (Signs) is simply an amazing young talent who provides all the wide-eyed caffeine the film needs and then some but does so with precious maturity. It’s as if she inspired the title. There’s a quirky behind-the-scenes story too: Sunshine’s directors--plural--are married to one another! Husband-and-wife duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are widely known music-video directors but not the type who would make their big-screen transition with something like say Torque; thankfully they chose substance over style. If not for these very gifted directors Sunshine could’ve come unhinged where so many pedestrian “dysfunctional family” indies do: by turning the characters each with a laundry list of defining quirks into caricatures. But thanks in equal parts to the direction acting and flawless script (from first-timer Michael Arndt) there is so much truth to each character. Most notable though is the linear nature of the story; these directors clearly don’t need swooping twists to convey their themes and profundity and that is rare and remarkable. The climax with which it all culminates can only be described as unforgettable.
Doug Henning, the perpetually upbeat, curly haired, mustachioed magician who made illusion a multimedia affair (on the road, on stage, on television) in the 1970s and 1980s, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 52.
Henning had suffered from liver cancer for five months.
Henning revived the popularity of magic through the rock musical "The Magic Show" in the 1970s, which ran on Broadway for more than four years. He returned to the stage for "Merlin" and "Doug Henning's World of Magic" in the 1980s. Henning is survived by his wife, Debbie.
The hip-hop world, meanwhile, is mourning the loss of Big Punisher (a.k.a. Christopher Rios) who died Monday in New York at age 28. The 698-pound Puerto Rican-born rapper, whose double-platinum album "Capital Punishment" spawned the hit single "Still Not a Player" in 1998, was thought to have suffered a heart attack. A Westchester County, N.Y., medical examiner, said that while Rios had an enlarged heart and other health problems, the cause of death would not be determined until autopsy tests were complete. Rios is survived by wife Liza and three young children.
In other obituary notices: "Lonesome" Dave Peverett, lead singer of the British blues-rock quartet Foghat, died Monday at age 56 of complications from liver cancer; and Hercules, the grizzly bear who starred in Disney films, commercials and once wrestled with Roger Moore in the James Bond film "Octopussy." Hercules passed away Monday at age 25.
LEAPIN' LIZARDS: OK, warning to potential "Magnolia" moviegoers: If you don't want to read about a key plot point, THEN SKIP THE REST OF THIS ITEM.
Anyway ... those frogs that rain down on "Magnolia" at the end of the film? Well, they're widely assumed to be a biblical reference to the book of Exodus. But director Paul Thomas Anderson says the inspiration came from writer Charles Fort first, God second.
Fort was known for compiling clippings about strange, unexplained phenomena, and Anderson used his story about three men being hanged named Green, Berry and Hill in a town called Green Berry Hill to open the film. He also found the frog-shower tidbit from Fort's various accounts.
"He thought it shouldn't be explained or that there was a far better explanation. He believed in a place called Megonia, a mythical place above the firmament where stuff would go up to and hang out before dropping back down to Earth. 'Magnolia' is a little tribute to that," the 30-year-old director says in Daily Variety. "And it sounds funny, but he believed that you can judge a society by the health of its frogs. That doesn't seem too crazy to me because our frogs are getting all deformed and dying."
EXPECTING: "Spin City's" Michael Boatman, who plays Carter, the deadpan-funny gay special assistant on minority affairs, is about to be a father again, according to People magazine. Boatman, 35, and wife Myra are expecting their second child, due in July. The baby will join sister Jordan, 3 ... ...
"Baywatch's" Brooke Burns, 21, is expecting her first child with husband Julian McMahon of NBC's "Profiler." The two were married Dec. 22.
IN COURT: Looks like "Veronica's Closet" co-star Wallace Langham will have to face hate-crime charges after all. A Los Angeles judge refused Monday to drop the case, in which Langham was accused of beating a gay tabloid reporter during a supermarket altercation. Despite a civil settlement between the actor and the journalist, the judge says the case must go forward because it was "a fairly brutal attack" and because Langham, 34, allegedly used slurs against the victim. ...
... Rapper-entrepreneur Sean "Puffy" Combs pleaded not guilty Monday to charges he was in possession of two illegal guns after a Manhattan nightclub shooting Dec. 27 that injured three people. Combs was indicted Jan. 13 with criminal possession of a weapon. Combs and girlfriend Jennifer Lopez were taken into custody after they allegedly fled the scene of the shooting in the rapper's sport utility vehicle, but Lopez was released without charges after questioning ...
... And we're happy to report that John Tesh has won back his name. Celebsites.com has agreed to return the cybername Johntesh.com to the ex-"Entertainment Tonight" host after the TV personality-musician filed suit in federal court.
LAUDED: The Publicist Guild of America has announced its nominations for the Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Awards, honoring PR types.
In the film categories, the nominees are the publicists for "American Beauty," "The Matrix," "Stuart Little," The Talented Mr. Ripley and "Toy Story 2"; the television nominees are "Annie," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Judging Amy," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "The West Wing.". The awards will be handed out March 22 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. ...
... Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Century Fox's Domestic Film Group and senior VP of Fox Filmed Entertainment, will receive the Sherrill Corwin Humanitarian Award at ShoWest for his involvement with numerous charities. The National Association of Theater Owners will give Sherak the honor, which has not been awarded since 1994, during its convention March 6-9 in Las Vegas.
QUICK TAKES: Two-time Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman will pull the early-morning shift to help announce the nominations for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards bright and early Feb. 15. He'll be joined by Academy President Robert Rehme. ...
... Jude Law ("The Talented Mr. Ripley") has joined the presenting team for Oscar night March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. ...
... Elizabeth Taylor is scheduled to hold an online chat session on AOL Live from 9-9:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday as a kickoff to Valentine's Day. Ironically, Dame Liz will be advising men on romantic gifts and other gestures. Tip No. 1: If your lady can't remember if your present was better than that of hubby No. 4 or No. 7, it's a very bad sign.