A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
Slain bodies found on Donaldson's ranch
ABC newsman Sam Donaldson discovered what authorities called an "obvious crime scene" when he went to check on a family of caretakers on his New Mexico ranch Tuesday, AP reports. Cody Posey, the 14-year-old son of caretaker Delbert Paul Posey, was arrested Wednesday on charges of killing his father, stepmother and stepsister, authorities said, after the bodies were found buried in a shallow grave on Donaldson's ranch. Donaldson and his wife, Jan, were in Santa Fe in northern New Mexico during the Fourth of July weekend when the slayings apparently occurred. "We didn't see them Tuesday morning or Tuesday afternoon, so I went over--and on the porch was a large stain that was instantly recognizable," Donaldson told Albuquerque television station KOB-TV. Donaldson said he had hired Posey and his family in October 2001 to work the ranch. "Jan and I are so very, very sorry about the loss of these fine people."
Fahrenheit closes in on DVD distributor
Sony Corp.'s home entertainment division is close to acquiring DVD and home video rights to Michael Moore's controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, Variety reports. Although neither Sony nor the Fellowship Adventure Group, the entity formed by Miramax Films co-chiefs Harvey and Bob Weinstein to distribute the film theatrically, would comment on the home video deal, Variety reports Sony would release the DVD and VHS versions of Fahrenheit this fall through its Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment unit. The film, which grossed a record $60 million through its first two weekends in the United States and Canada, the most ever for a political documentary, also opened in France on Wednesday, where it wracked up huge ticket sales, as well as in Switzerland, Belgium and the Middle East; it will open in Britain on Thursday.
Spider-Man, set to song?
Producer Tony Adams and Marvel Comics are looking to take the comic-book-turned-hit-movie franchise and stage it as a musical, Variety reports. They are in talks with an eclectic group of musicians to make Spidey sing, including U2's Bono and the Edge and director/writer Neil Jordan (The Crying Game). The Lion King's Julie Taymor is on board to direct.
Jackson's defense wants indictment tossed out
Michael Jackson's lawyers are asking a judge to throw out his grand jury indictment on child molestation charges, claiming the prosecutors bullied and coerced witnesses, running the proceedings "as if they employed the grand jurors," The Associated Press reports. The court released the motion, filed Tuesday by attorney Robert Sanger, on Wednesday after being heavily edited by Santa Barbara County Judge Rodney Melville to remove names of witnesses and references to the specifics of the indictment, AP reports. The motion cites that the prosecutors ran the secret grand jury hearings "by innuendo and sarcasm, impugning Mr. Jackson by ridiculing those allegedly associated with him and even those who sought to legally represent him." The dismissal issue will be argued at a future hearing in Santa Maria, Calif.
UPN to debut Amish in the City
UPN and New Line Television have wrapped production on the controversial reality TV show Amish in the City and plan to debut the show at the end of this month in what Variety calls "a stealth move designed to head off potential critics." The show puts five Amish youth, who are allowed to leave their rural communities in a coming-of-age rite known as "rumspringa," and six streetwise roommates into a Hollywood Hills home and captures the culture clash on film. When UPN first announced plans for the series in January, it came under fire from TV critics and politicians, who urged the network to drop the project. UPN will air back-to-back episodes of Amish in the City from 8-10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 28. The series will then air Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
Brit watchdog group brands OutKast poster "irresponsible"
Britain's Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint Wednesday branding a poster for hip-hop duo Outkast's double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as "irresponsible." According to Reuters, the group said the ad, which shows OutKast's Andre 3000 brandishing a pink, smoking gun, could be seen to glorify gun use, but rejected another claim that the poster promoted racial stereotypes. Record label BMG argued that because the gun is pink, it would be interpreted as an ironic image, but the ASA found that the color of the gun was irrelevant, and added that the fact it was smoking implied that it had been recently fired. "It's a play, it's a spoof. They're a very dramatic, flamboyant group (and) they're famous the world over for being the least gangster-posturing hip-hop group ever," BMG's press director, Paul Bursche, said.
Rapper Jadakiss faces drugs, weapons charge
Rapper Jadakiss, whose real name is Jason T. Phillips, faces misdemeanor weapons and drug charges after police in Fayetteville, N.C., discovered two concealed, loaded handguns and marijuana in his recreational vehicle, the AP reports. According to police reports, an off-duty officer stopped the RV Monday after he spotted someone throwing firecrackers from the window. Sgt. Alex Thompson told the AP the officer spotted the marijuana, which weighed less than an ounce, during a search and then asked for permission to search the vehicle. During the search, two loaded .45-caliber pistols were found under a pillow. Phillips was the only one of the eight people in the vehicle to be charged.
Ashley Judd moved by visit to Cambodia
De-Lovely star Ashley Judd was moved to tears when visiting an AIDS hospice and a museum of the "Killing Fields" genocide of the Khmer Rouge during a visit to Cambodia's capitol, Phnom Penh. "I'm very pleased that they received me and allowed me to visit with them. I'm very grateful to the people that provide their health care with such dignity," AP reports a tearful Judd said about the hospice, which was set up to give some of Cambodia's estimated 170,000 AIDS victims a place to die with dignity. Judd then stopped by the genocide museum at the Tuol Sleng interrogation center, where thousands of Cambodians were tortured by Pol Pot's regime before being executed in what were known as the "Killing Fields."
Guylaine Cadorette contributed to this report.
This film is based on Elegy for Iris literary critic John Bayley's biography of his late wife the brilliant writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Iris is unconventional in the sense that it does not adhere to a structured plot or story line but instead focuses on their relationship by flashing back and forth between the present and 40 years ago when the two first met. In the sequences taking place in the past Kate Winslet plays a young confident Murdoch in her formative years a woman revered by men and openly bisexual. Hugh Bonneville plays the young and apprehensive Bayley hopelessly pursuing her. The present however reveals a drastic role reversal for the couple: We see Murdoch in her 70s as played by Judi Dench and witness her descent into Alzheimer's disease and the toll it takes on her husband played by Jim Broadbent. The once-subservient husband has been thrust into a caretaker position and painfully tries to cope with his beloved wife's illness and loss of sanity.
Dench deservedly received a best actress Oscar nomination for the fabulous job she does as the older Murdoch. She is convincing as a brilliant thinker and even more believable as her condition worsens--check out the heartbreaking scene when Bayley locks himself in the study to get away from her irrational behavior and she scratches the windowpane on the glass door like a cat while looking at her husband with utter helplessness. Dench conveys her character's vulnerability in a single glance. As an older Bayley Broadbent is as impressive as Dench especially as he struggles to be assertive yet avoid being too harsh. Bonneville as a young Bayley could almost be Broadbent's clone. At first glance he looks like the same actor made to look older through some sort of makeup or special effects wizardry. Bonneville skillfully hatches the young Bayley's traits and tics later perfected by Broadbent. Winslet also Oscar-nominated for Iris (in the supporting actress category) well plays Murdoch's early audacity and boldness.
Director Richard Eyre does a beautiful and seamless job flowing from the past to the present throughout the film. Although the film barely delves into Murdoch's work the importance of her writing is established with scenes from a BBC interview or a luncheon given in her honor. Eyre also does an exceptional job conveying Bayley's hopeless predicament: he fusses over Murdoch like an overprotective parent intermittently lashing out at her only to apologize sobbing afterward for having done so. It's sweet and pitiful especially since Bayley believes that the Iris he fell in love with is still in there somewhere. But while the film is visually exquisite and convincing the subject matter is not necessarily entertaining. We know Murdoch will eventually succumb to her illness but it's even more dreadful to have to watch every agonizing step. By the time Murdoch was reduced to playing in the dirt and watching Teletubbies I found myself wondering When is she going to die already?
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.
Whether the Olympics or network television, it's a cutthroat world out there. This from ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" files: NBC and CBS are reportedly asking their network stars to not appear on special celebrity episodes of the Regis Philbin phenom, Daily Variety reports.
But viewers will be treated to 10 former U.S. Olympic athletes.
Last spring, funnyman Ray Romano from CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond," "X-Files" G-man David Duchovny of Fox, and Vivica A. Fox from the CBS series "City of Angels" appeared on "Millionaire" alongside such notables as Lance Bass of 'N Sync and Queen Latifah to high ratings.
Variety reports that Martin Sheen of NBC's "The West Wing" and Conan O'Brien tentatively agreed to appear this time around but backed out after NBC officials suggested otherwise.
The scheduled TV celebrities so far are all from ABC, of course: "Spin City's" Charlie Sheen, "The Drew Carey Show's" Drew Carey and Joy Behar of the daytime talker "The View." They'll appear alongside Alec Baldwin and Sean "Puffy" Combs.
But if waiting around for the celebrity episodes proves too much, ABC has something else up its sleeves: See 10 former U.S. Olympians with Regis!
Each jock, some of whom will probably be seen by more viewers on the gameshow than during their Olympics events on NBC, will receive a guaranteed $16,000 for their appearances, ABC said.
The scheduled Olympians are: swimmers Lenny Krayzelburg, Jenny Thompson, Gary Hall Jr. and Dana Torres; runner Maurice Green; basketball player Lisa Leslie; soccer player Julie Foudy; pole vaulter Stacy Dragila; diver Laura Wilkinson; and wrestler Rulon Gardner.
The two special Olympic editions will air Oct. 22 and 24. Half of the winnings will go to charity, the other wherever the athletes desire.
And the Olympic spirit lives on.
Julie Walters shines as Bernie McPhelimy a working-class mother of four who is sick to death of living on the front lines. In curlers and a housecoat she chews out a gunman shooting from her welcome mat as if he were a naughty child. But it isn't until her best friend is shot dead while looking after one of Bernie's kids that she turns from Valium to activism. Daring to criticize the IRA as well as the British army Bernie becomes the town pariah though her gumption turns her into an unlikely celebrity. Ostracized and bullied by their friends her kids -- especially adolescent Ann who just wants to keep her new boyfriend -- resent her and suspect all this fame is going to her head.
In her best film role since "Educating Rita " Julie Walters shows she still has a surplus of piss and vinegar. Her Bernie also displays a sardonic (if exhausted) wit and an all-too-human ego as her fame spreads. While Ciaran Hinds is effective as the ulcer-addled apprehensive husband and Nuala O'Neill gives an appropriately mopey angst-ridden performance as Ann vibrant supporting performances by the townspeople really bring soul and humor to this film.
Quite different from his last film the glossy fluffy "Notting Hill " Rodger Michell's "Titanic Town" is a small indie with many fine miniature moments such as Bernie's preoccupation with the dust bunnies under the bed as British soldiers forcibly search her home. With a spate of IRA films preceding it Michell's is the only one to really show "The Troubles" through a mother's eyes.