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.
The story of the late great Johnny Cash depicted in Walk the Line is not quite all encompassing. The film dramatizes just one moment in Cash's life: his tumultuous 20s and rise to fame. The young Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) married and straight out of the army struggles with his music finally finding his patented blend of country blues and rock music. Haunted by a troubled childhood Cash sings songs about death love treachery and sin--and shoots straight to the top of the charts. On tour he also meets and falls for his future wife June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) whose refusal to meddle with a married man only further fuels the fire and contributes to his eventual drug addiction. Their cat-and-mouse love story provides the film’s core but unfortunately can’t quite overcome Walk the Line’s formulaic nature. Biopics are generally good to actors. Phoenix and Witherspoon could easily each walk away with Oscar statuettes for turning in two of the most jaw-dropping spellbinding performances since well Jamie Foxx in Ray. Neither actor had any musical background whatsoever but they both underwent painstaking transformations for the sake of authenticity doing all of their own singing as well as guitar-playing for Phoenix. The actor's performance is purely raw and visceral; his vulnerability is aptly palpable at first but then he becomes the Cash with the unflinching swagger. Witherspoon's Carter is Cash's temptress and she'll be yours too by movie's end. She eerily reincarnates Carter as if she was born to play the part. If Walk the Line is the ultimate actor's canvas then Phoenix and Witherspoon make priceless art-and music-together. While good for the actors biopics can prove to be difficult for the director. It’s hard to highlight a person’s life without it coming off like a TV movie of the week. Unfortunately director James Mangold (Copland) plays it safe with Walk the Line. The duets between Johnny and June on stage are about the only electrifying moments of the film. The rest is pretty stereotypical. And it isn’t because the film only focuses on certain years of Cash's life. It's simply not possible to fit a lifetime into the short duration of a film. The problem instead is that Mangold's presentation of Cash's life would lead one to believe that Cash actually exorcised his demons. But in reality his lifelong demons are what endeared him to the layperson. There was nothing cut and dry about the Cash story--and adding a little grit would have given Walk the Line the edge it needed.
On the surface Stay seems to be a straightforward psychological drama about a psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) who is trying to keep a mysterious patient Henry (Ryan Gosling) from killing himself. But the deeper we get into it the decidedly weirder it gets. And not necessarily in a good way. Sam and Henry seemed to be inexplicably connected. While his girlfriend and former patient Lila (Naomi Watts) looks haplessly on Sam’s lightly held grip on the rational world begins to melt away. He can no longer figure out what is true and what is happening only in his head--all climaxing in a titular confrontation between life and death. Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling would have loved this one. Although he was surprisingly good as the romantic lead in The Notebook the usually somber Gosling is best known for playing quiet psychotics in such films as The United States of Leland and Murder By Numbers. In Stay he’s back to his old tricks as the suicidal Henry. Pale with mournful eyes and a perpetual cigarette in his mouth Henry is certainly a tortured soul looking for some relief. On the flip side Watts brightens the otherwise dismal surroundings as Lila but there’s also a tinge of sadness about her. The only weak link is McGregor. He can’t quite pull off playing the dedicated psychiatrist slowly losing his mind--but the Scottish actor sure has mastered the American accent (ditto for the Australian Watts). Director Marc Forster (Monsters Ball Finding Neverland) seems a bit out of his league with this jumbled-up hard-to-understand psychological fare. Granted the visuals are arresting. Forster strives to create a world which at first seems real but then little by little turns into a wildly shifting dreamscape in which scenes blend into one another seamlessly. The real problem here is the script by David Benioff (25th Hour). It tries to say “Look how clever!” by throwing you for loop after loop--except the loops don’t make much sense. You eventually stop saying “What the hell?” and start to get a pretty good idea how Stay is going to end up. And when the final twist is handed down it’s surprisingly not all that disappointing.
October 28, 2003 9:08am EST
Top Story: Britney Spears Bitter About Men
Pop princess Britney Spears says she became bitter with men after her very public breakup with ex Justin Timberlake. In an interview with Newsweek magazine in its Nov. 3 issue, Spears says she swore off dating for a while after the experience. "There was a time when I was like, 'OK, I'm over men. They're mean,'" she says. "For like six months, not a single thing happened. Not like they weren't drawn to me, but there wasn't a single real attraction. I'm like, 'What's happening? I know I'm not a lesbian.'" Spears says she is still not involved with anyone and denies reports that she hooked up with 21-year-old Columbus Short, a married backup dancer. Spears also talks about her suggestive layouts for Rolling Stone, British Elle and Esquire magazines. "I did feel kind of weird after those photos," Spears says. "I was in a moment. I had, like, eight Red Bulls and said, 'OK, let's do it.' I learned my lesson and you won't see me like that for a while. I'm kinda over it myself. Not that it's dirty or tacky, but it is really revealing and I wouldn't want my kid, at 21, to be dressing like that."
Price Is Right Announcer Dies
Veteran television announcer Rod Roddy died Monday at Century City Hospital of colon and breast cancer at age 66, The Associated Press reports. For 17 years, Roddy's voice was familiar to fans of the television game show The Price Is Right for the legendary phrase: "Come on down!" Host Bob Barker said Monday that Roddy, who taped his last show two months ago, stayed with the CBS show as long as his health permitted. "The courage he showed during those difficult times was an inspiration to us all," Barker said. "He was quite a character. He was important to the success of the show." A private funeral service will be held in Texas, with a memorial service planned sometime later in Los Angeles.
California Fires Destroy Part of Aviator Set
The Southern California wildfires, which have destroyed at least 1,134 homes, killed 15 people, forced thousands to evacuate and disrupted auto and air traffic, also partially destroyed a set for Warner Bros.' Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator in the Simi Valley area over the weekend. According to Variety, the blaze at Big Sky Ranch forced the production to switch to interior shooting in Long Beach, Calif. Mike Dilorenzo of Santa Clarita Studios said his facility is operating at full capacity with CSI and Carnivale shooting, but added that the studio was on full alert with fires hoses hooked up and ready to go.
David Bowie and Iman To Appear in Hilfiger Ads
Rock icon David Bowie and his wife, supermodel Iman, will appear in their first ad campaign together. According to Billboard.com, the couple will be the new faces for designer Tommy Hilfiger's new H Hilfiger line, to be launched in spring 2004. The collection, described as "sophisticated, sexy and refined," will be part of Hilfiger's high-end line. The ad campaign, shot this month in Amsterdam by renowned photographer Ellen Von Unwerth, will debut in American magazines in April 2004.
Rosie O'Donnell, G+J Court Date Delayed
The court battle between Rosie O'Donnell and her ex-publishing partner, Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing, was put on temporary hold on yesterday as a scheduling conflict caused the judge to delay Tuesday's start date. G+J charges that everything unraveled at the now defunct Rosie magazine when O'Donnell shut down her daytime TV show in 2002 and went from being known as "fun-loving" to becoming a self-proclaimed "uber-bitch." O'Donnell, however, claims the publisher seized control of the magazine, fired editors who were loyal to her and tried to smear her reputation. Manhattan Supreme Court officials told Reuters the breach-of-contract case over the messy demise of the entertainer's namesake magazine will likely open later this week.
Fox Pulls Plug on Luis
After only four airings, Fox has decided to pull the plug on its freshman series Luis. The show starred feature character actor Luis Guzman as a doughnut shop owner in Spanish Harlem, but it opened to poor reviews and ratings, averaging 3.6 million viewers in its four airings. According to The Hollywood Reporter, production on the series, which aired Friday at 8:30 p.m., was shut down Monday. Ten episodes of the comedy were produced overall. For the next two Fridays, Fox will air original episodes of Wanda at Large at 8 and 8:30 p.m. The network had previously scheduled movies to run on the last two Fridays of the November sweep.
ABC News: Oswald Acted Alone
ABC said Monday that an in-depth investigation of the Kennedy assassination conducted by ABC News indisputably confirms that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The network said ABC News worked with an expert who created a computer-generated reconstruction of the shooting based on maps, blueprints, physical measurements, more than 500 photographs, films and autopsy reports. Through interviews and other documentation, ABC News also concludes that Jack Ruby, who later killed Oswald, acted simply out of his love for Kennedy, the AP reports. The two-hour special on the event is scheduled to air Nov. 20, two days before the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Tim Robbins To Host Cash Tribute
Actor Tim Robbins will host the Nov. 10 musical tribute to country legend Johnny Cash, who died Sept. 12 at age 71 of complications from diabetes. According to the AP, The Bull Durham star did an audio interview with Cash for promotion of the singer's 2000 album, American III: Solitary Man. Cash also wrote and performed "In Your Mind" for the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking, a 1995 film Robbins directed. Tickets for the tribute concert, which will take place at the Ryman Auditorium, were free and distributed by lottery. John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Hank Williams Jr., Jack Clement, Steve Earle, Larry Gatlin and Cash's daughter, Rosanne, are scheduled to perform.