Yes, Shonda Rhimes has successfully weaved us into her Scandal web and Veep has become an Emmy darling. And yet, in 2012, Political Animals also premiered and promised scandal, sex, and politics. All that, plus Ellen Ripley Sigourney Weaver.
Hilary Clinton Elaine Barrish (Weaver) threw her hat into the presidential election and lost. She was former First Lady to a philandering husband, Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds). She is gearing up for a huge political push to run for president again. She finds an unlikely ally in Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), a journalist whose career was built trying to take her down. She must balance her political career and her eccentric family. Her Chief of Staff son, Douglas Hammond (James Wolk) is planning a huge marriage to his bulimic, perfectionist fiancé Anne Ogami (Brittany Ishibashi). Both her mother, former showgirl Margaret Barrish (Ellen Burstyn), and her openly gay son Thomas "T.J." Hammond (Sebastian Stan) are alcoholics and drug addicts. Plus, she has to get out of her husband’s shadow and maneuver around current president Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar).
What is so great about the series is how it portrays the multi-faceted world of politics. People have multiple agendas and even more faces. It also focuses on the pressure that politics place on the family. It delves a level deeper than Scandal, because this series focuses on the politicians themselves and the unique factors affecting their lives. It also has just as much drama and tension, with various inappropriate couplings, revelations, and political machinations.
The actors are amazing. Weaver is unstoppable and manages to be a persnickety hard-ass but also a vulnerable and loving woman. Burstyn won an Emmy for her role in the series. Wolk (who went on to greater renown as Bob Benson on Mad Men) and Stan are great as twins with two vastly different personalities and drives.
The mini-series was only six episodes and was, sadly, not optioned for a full series. Luckily, it’s available on Netflix in its entirety.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
A throng of celebrities will participate in the upcoming 16-part public TV show Freedom: A History of Us, which will air in January. The series will feature Julia Roberts, Anthony Hopkins, Angela Bassett, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams reading from personal historical accounts, Variety reports. The series is based on the controversial textbooks written by amateur historian Joy Hakim in the 1990s. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will give the show an on-air introduction.
'N Sync band member Lance Bass has received informal word from the Russian space agency that he has qualified as physically fit to fly aboard a rocket flight to the International Space Station, Reuters reports. Bass, 23, is expected to start flight training on Monday at the cosmonaut center in Russia's Star City.
Sylvester Stallone's wife, Jennifer Flavin Stallone, has given birth to their third child, The Associated Press reports. Scarlet Rose was born Saturday at a Los Angeles hospital, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces. The couple already has two daughters, Sophia, 5, and Sistine, 3.
Longtime Hollywood couple Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins may perform in an Irish production of a play based on the Sept. 11 attacks. According to Reuters, the couple has agreed in principle to appear in The Guys at Dublin's Peacock Theatre in late August. The play is based on the experiences of Anne Nelson, a professor at Columbia University's journalism school.
Elton John has resigned as chairman of Watford, a British soccer team, after a 25-year association with the club, Reuters reports. John said in a statement on the club's Web site, "With the huge changes taking place in [soccer], it is obviously necessary for the board to be led by a chairman who will be able to devote more time to the club than I have been able to." Watford finished in 14th place last season.
Former Law & Order star Angie Harmon has been cast as a trainer of teen spies in MGM's upcoming kids movie Agent Cody Banks slated for release next summer, Variety reports. The film will also star Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff of Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire.
In the Biz
British director Jonathan Glazer, who helmed Sexy Beast, has signed on to shoot the remake of the Japanese film Chaos for Universal Pictures, Variety reports. The film centers on a grifter drafted to stage the kidnapping of a wealthy businessman's wife. Robert De Niro and Benicio Del Toro are in talks to star in the project.
A half-hour reality series based on Anna Nicole Smith will premiere on E! in August. According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Anna Nicole Smith Show will take a glimpse into Smith's daily life and include her 16-year-old son, Daniel, her lawyer Howard K. Stern and assistant Kim.
The FX cable channel and Artisan Television are developing a two-hour TV movie based on American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh. According to Variety, the film, tentatively titled American Taliban, will attempt to explain what motivated Lindh to fight for the Afghan extremists. If the project gets greenlighted, it wouldn't bow until 2003 at the earliest.
It looks like Sharon Osbourne will host the VH1 broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee concert on June 3. The all-star performance will feature Sharon's husband, Ozzy Osbourne, plus Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney. VH1 will air highlights of the concert, which will take place in the garden of Buckingham Palace in London, on June 9.
Rocker David Bowie may be embarking on a world tour in the near future, but not this year. In a journal posted on his official Web site, Bowie said he is often asked about doing a full-blown world tour and commented, "I have a real need to keep writing this year, and I always go with my gut feeling for what is right. Next couple of years, though? Who knows?"
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was sued for breach of contract by former business associate Tim Duffy in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, LAUNCH music reports. Duffy claims that, last summer, Ulrich forced him from his role as managing member of The Music Company, a now-defunct boutique label the two formed in 1996.
Mildred Wirt Benson, the original author of the Nancy Drew mystery series, died Tuesday at the Toledo Hospital in Ohio. She was 96. Benson wrote countless books and stories but is best known for creating Nancy Drew, a series that sold more than 200 million books in 17 languages and spawned a TV series. She wrote 23 of the 30 original stories using the pen name Carolyn Keene.
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.
Does ... this ... movie ... really ... have ... to ... be ... nearly ... two
... hours ... long? By showing Basinger's character's extensive adjustment to life in the bush the film eventually manages to tell the story of one woman's quest to find strength through her pain. Not too original.
Though Basinger doesn't give the Academy-caliber performance she did in
"L.A. Confidential " she does manage to draw you in. She's most powerful in her dramatic roles and in this movie the drama comes when she attempts to deal with the loss of her loved ones. Sadly the dashing Vincent Perez as her new husband is forgettable.
In telling this story Hugh Hudson takes his time ... too much time. Easily "I
Dreamed of Africa" could stand to lose at least 20 minutes. Hudson does know however how to get the best work out of Basinger. And kudos to the cinematographer. The vastness of the African landscape and the beauty of its sunsets are a treat.