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.
Set primarily in the week following the death of Princess Diana when the nation was mourning for “the people’s princess ” the events largely escaped the notice of the Queen Elizabeth (Mirren) who was on vacation at her Scottish estate. Without any official statement or public expression of grief coming from Buckingham Palace public sentiment began to turn against the Queen to the point that some were calling for the end of the monarchy itself. The newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) just four months in office found himself in the difficult position of trying to convince Her Majesty that she should respond to the public outpouring of grief even though Diana was technically no longer a royal at the time of her death. There followed a dialogue between modernity and the monarchy between honoring tradition and giving into public demands. Mirren is always regal and commanding--she’s already played two queens previously--and does absolute justice to the very tricky task of portraying a living high-profile subject in a sympathetic light. We see the stiff frumpy monarch we’ve glimpsed in photographs and on television but through Mirren we also see Queen Elizabeth’s wry humor and her deep sense of honor and duty. And we see her confidence falter during this crisis in which she realizes just how horribly out of touch she has become with her subjects. Mirren’s Oscar nomination is guaranteed. Sheen takes on the role of the brash novice P.M. with great aplomb. His Blair (whom he played previously in a TV film set before The Queen) is a man who’s eager to modernize the stodgy tradition-bound British government but also someone with a surprising devotion to the Queen. He’s easily the most sympathetic character in the film. We might admire Queen Elizabeth but we can’t help genuinely liking and trusting this young populist who’s so plugged into the nation’s mood. Stage actor Alex Jennings is less effective as Prince Charles partly because he looks nothing like him. Although he’s portrayed as deeply affected by Diana’s death he comes off as spoiled and petulant. James Cromwell(Babe) is an unlikely choice to portray Prince Philip the Queen’s husband. Here he is a cranky traditionalist who decries the “celebrities and homosexuals” being invited to Diana’s funeral and and is convinced that the hordes of people crying in the streets over her will eventually “come to their senses.” On the surface a look at how Queen Elizabeth and the royal family coped with the tragedy of Diana’s death doesn’t seem the likeliest subject for a film and certainly not one that would yield such entertaining results. But director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have managed to capture not just a historic moment in time when tradition and the modern world clashed but when the monarchy looked on the brink of collapse. Frears and Morgan undertook a tremendous amount of research and spoke to dozens of sources to create this surprisingly respectful peek behind closed doors of the ruling elite. One wonders if Prince Philip really calls his wife “cabbage ” but the daily routines and the milieus for the characters have an air of authenticity. The film seamlessly blends archival scenes with recreations especially impressive during Diana’s funeral. The film is restrained and subtle much like the England the queen says she admires but it has a wry sense of humor that sneaks in such as when Blair and his wife are being instructed in the necessary rituals of bowing and scraping for their first meeting with Her Majesty.
Michael Jackson made a rare appearance in court last week in a $21 million breach-of-contract lawsuit, but it wasn't the case that had everyone talking; it was his face. Reuters reports when Superior Court Judge Zel Canter told the pop oddity to remove his surgical mask, his bizarre appearance prompted gasps from the courtroom audience. Photos of Jackson, who sported eyeliner, lipstick, a spotty goatee and bandage over his nose, caused a brouhaha on the Internet and now plastic surgeons are weighing in. "He is almost a fantasy figure or a cartoon character," Dr Edward Domanskis, a Newport Beach, Calif., plastic surgeon, told Reuters. "At the age of 40, people don't...look that way." Chicago plastic surgeon Dr. Laurie Casas added, "You have to wonder how someone has gotten in a situation where they look very abnormal. He's got kind of a shrunken skin, but it's impossible to speculate on how it happened."
Jason Alexander, best known for his portrayal of George Costanza on Seinfeld, has a new gig. The actor, who dropped out of Boston University in his junior year, is teaching undergraduates at the University of Southern California as the School of Theatre's first George Burns Visiting Professor, The Associated Press Reports.
A wad of Elvis Presley's hair sold at auction Saturday for $115,120 to an anonymous bidder, the AP reports. Presley's former hairstylist Homer "Mr. Gill" Gilleland collected the hair, about the size of a baseball. Before Gilleland died, he gave the hair to friend Tom Morgan, who sold it through the auction house MastroNet Inc.
The anti-smoking lobby is outraged that James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan agreed to smoke cigars in the latest film Die Another Day because it is set in Cuba. According to Britain's Sunday Times, critics have dubbed the film Buy Another Day, saying it is littered with blatant plugs for a variety of brand names. Britain is expected to outlaw the use of cigarettes in films and TV dramas next year.
Denzel Washington will reprise Frank Sinatra's role in Paramount Pictures' remake of the 1962 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, Variety reports. No director is attached to the project, which was penned by Sum of All Fears scribe Dan Payne. The film, based on the 1959 novel Candidate by Richard Condon, is about a Korean War veteran brainwashed into trying to assassinate the president.
Cable TV's Sci Fi channel sent a team of archeologists to conduct a study on the southern New Mexico desert to find out whether a UFO actually crash-landed there in 1947. According to Reuters, the program promises never-before-seen eyewitness interviews, late-breaking revelations and a "smoking gun bombshell." Viewers will have to wait until the channel airs The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence on Nov. 22 for answers.
ABC News anchor Peter Jennings has formed an independent production company that allows him to make documentaries for other networks, the AP reports. The deal gives Jennings ownership of his series and allows him and his executive producer, Tom Yellin, to sell documentaries to other networks, with the exclusion of competitors NBC and CBS. ABC has agreed to pay for and air at least four reports in primetime each year.
Astute TV viewers may have noticed an influx of Elton John songs in their favorite shows lately, including NBC's Scrubs, UPN's Enterprise and HBO's Six Feet Under. According to Variety, Universal Music Enterprises offered extended terms and dramatically lower-than-usual licensing costs to networks in a bid to market last week's release of Elton John: Greatest Hits 1970-2002.
Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell said her latest album, Travelogue, may be her last. Mitchell, 59, blasted music industry executives in the December issue of W magazine, saying, "They're not looking for talent. They're looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate. And a woman my age, no matter how well-preserved, no longer has the look." She added, "What would I do? Show my tits? Grab my crotch? Get hair extensions and a choreographer? It's not my world."