As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The story of the most dominant racehorse of all time does not easily fit into the standard inspirational sports flick mold. Such films typically require its protagonists to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles be they competitive (Hoosiers) personal (The Natural) societal (Ali) or some combination of all three (Remember the Titans). But by all accounts the greatest challenges to Secretariat capturing of the 1973 Triple Crown were not rival horses — indeed Secretariat had no true rival — but a pair of slow starts and an abscess. And abscesses — apologies to dermatologists — simply aren’t all that effective as dramatic devices.
Lacking most of the vital ingredients of the traditional underdog movie formula Disney’s Secretariat is forced to synthesize them. Its screenplay written by Mike Rich and based rather loosely on the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack adopts a conventional save-the-farm framework: When her parents pass away within months of each other Denver housewife Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) is advised to sell off her family’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables a beautiful but unprofitable horse-breeding enterprise in order to pay the onerous inheritance taxes levied by the state. But Penny her deceased father’s hackneyed horse-inspired counsel fresh in her mind (“You’ve got to run your own race ” etc. etc.) is loath to depart with such a cherished heirloom. So she concocts a scheme just idiotic enough to work betting the farm — literally — that her new horse Big Red in whom she has an almost Messianic faith will win the Kentucky Derby Preakness and Belmont races in succession.
Of course Big Red under the stage name Secretariat goes on to do just that but only after the film subjects us to nearly two hours of manufactured melodrama. Lane grasping all-too conspicuously for awards consideration treats every line as if it were the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Her character Penny exhibits a hair-trigger sensitivity to the sounds of skeptics and naysayers bursting forth with a polite rebuke and a stern sermon for anyone who dares doubt her crusade from the trash-talking owner of a rival horse to her annoyingly pragmatic husband (Dylan Walsh).
Lane isn’t alone in her grandiosity. The entire production reeks of it as director Randall Wallace lines the story with fetid chunks of overwrought Oscar bait like so many droppings in an untended stable even using Old Testament quotations and gospel music to endow Penny’s quest with biblical significance. John Malkovich is kind enough to inject some mirth into the heavy-handed proceedings hamming it up as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin a French-Canadian curmudgeon with an odd sartorial palette. It’s not enough however to alleviate the discomfort of witnessing the film's quasi-Sambo depiction of Secretariat’s famed groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) which reaches its cringeworthy zenith when Sweat runs out to the track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes and exclaims to no one in particular that “Big Red done eat his breakfast this mornin’!!!” Bagger Vance would be proud. Whether or not Ellis’ portrayal of Sweat’s cadence and mannerisms is accurate (and for all I know it may well be) the character is too thinly drawn to register as anything more than an amiable simple-minded servant.
Animal lovers will be happy to know that the horses in Secretariat come off looking far better than their human counterparts and not just because they’re alloted the best dialogue. In the training and racing sequences Wallace effectively conveys the strength and majesty of the fearsome animals drawing us into the action and creating a strong element of suspense even though the final result is a fait accompli. It's too bad the rest of the film never makes it out of the gate.
This is the dawning of the age of Kelly Ripa.
The All My Children actress and Live with Regis and Kelly co-host could walk away with two Emmys this year. Ripa was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the ABC soap, and her morning chat show with Regis Philbin received a nod for Best Talk Show.
Ripa's husband, actor Mark Consuelos, was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role on AMC. Ripa and Consuelos met while working on the show, where they play married couple Hayley and Mateo Santos.
In all, AMC leads the way with a total of 21 nominations. Star Susan Lucci, who finally won an Emmy in 1999 after being nominated 21 times, is up for Best Lead Actress. But the actress is facing stiff competition: She's up against co-star Finola Hughes, The Bold and the Beautiful's Susan Flannery and As the World Turns' Martha Byrne and Colleen Zenk Pinter.
With 55 nominations, CBS leads the way in overall network nods. ABC and PBS are close behind with 49 nominations each.
Nominations were announced at a special ceremony hosted by Maury Povich in the Rainbow Room restaurant on Thursday. Highlights of the nomination announcements were broadcast live on CBS' The Early Show.
The 29th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards presentation will be broadcast from Madison Square Garden on May 17 on CBS.
Here is a list of the major nominations:
All My Children (ABC)
As the World Turns (CBS)
One Life to Live (ABC)
The Young and the Restless (CBS)
Lead Actress, Drama Series:
Susan Lucci, All My Children (ABC)
Martha Byrne, As the World Turns (CBS)
Susan Flannery, The Bold and the Beautiful (CBS)
Finola Hughes, All My Children (ABC)
Colleen Zenk Pinter, As the World Turns (CBS)
Lead Actor, Drama Series:
Peter Bergman, The Young & the Restless (CBS)
Jack Scalia, All My Children (ABC)
Vincent Irizarry, All My Children (ABC)
Hunt Block, As the World Turns (CBS)
Robert Newman, Guiding Light (CBS)
Supporting Actress, Drama Series:
Maura West, As the World Turns (CBS)
Kelly Ripa, All My Children (ABC)
Kelley Hensley, As the World Turns (CBS)
Beth Ehlers, Guiding Light (CBS)
Crystal Chappell, Guiding Light (CBS)
Supporting Actor, Drama Series:
Josh Duhamel, All My Children (ABC)
Benjamin Hendrickson, As the World Turns (CBS)
Mark Consuelos, All My Children (ABC)
Cameron Mathison, All My Children (ABC)
Paul Leyden, As the World Turns (CBS)
The Rosie O'Donnell Show (syndicated)
Live with Regis and Kelly (syndicated)
The View (ABC)
The Montel Williams Show (syndicated)
Talk Show Host:
Rosie O'Donnell, The Rosie O'Donnell Show (syndicated)
Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, Live with Regis and Kelly (syndicated)
Montel Williams, The Montel Williams Show (syndicated)
Barbara Walters, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira, Joy Behar, Lisa Ling, The View (ABC)
The Price Is Right (CBS)
Hollywood Squares (syndicated)
Win Ben Stein's Money (Comedy Central)
Game Show Host:
Alex Trebek, Jeopardy! (syndicated)
Bob Barker, The Price Is Right (CBS)
Ben Stein and Nancy Pimental, Win Ben Stein's Money (Comedy Central)
Pat Sajak, Wheel of Fortune (syndicated)
Reading Rainbow (PBS)
Between the Lions (PBS)
Even Stevens (Disney Channel)
Discovery Kids Ultimate Guide to the Awesome (Discovery)
Pre-School Children's Series:
Blue's Clues (Nickelodeon)
Sesame Street (PBS)
Martha Stewart Living (syndicated)
This Old House (PBS)
Essence of Emeril (Food Network)
The Christopher Lowell Show (Discovery)
Wolfgang Puck (Food Network)