R&B star Usher is adding TV producer to his resume by joining a U.S. documentary exploring the educational system. The Yeah! hitmaker will act as executive producer for the upcoming film Undroppable, which aims to examine the reasons why students choose to drop out of school.
The singer was introduced to the project by his business partner Scooter Braun, who is also a producer on the film, along with Adam McKay, Sharon Chang, Alex Soros and John Powers Middleton.
Braun tells Billboard, "I knew Usher was very passionate about the issue of education, so I felt this was a great project to bring him into. His expertise will be invaluable as we continue this film and movement."
A social media campaign which will allow students to speak in video form about issues they face in school will also launch to coincide with the documentary.
The film, which is directed and written by Jason Pollock, is due to release next year (14).
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.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Top Story: Jack Osbourne in Rehab
Jack Osbourne of MTV's hit reality show The Osbournes is receiving treatment in a California rehab clinic, reports Entertainment Tonight. According to the show, Osbourne is being treated at the Las Encinas Hospital in Los Angeles, although it is not clear what the 17-year-old is being treated for. Photos of parents Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne visiting Jack at the private clinic, which specializes in drug addiction and psychiatric care, were published in the UK paper The Sun. Despite being four years too young to drink publicly in LA, he has admitted he loves "going out with friends and getting wasted," and viewers of the show have witnessed Jack being read out by his parents for smoking pot.
Vandross Undergoes Tracheotomy
Grammy-winning singer Luther Vandross has undergone a tracheotomy to fight off pneumonia, Reuters reports. His business manager Carmen Romano said in a statement Monday that the procedure was done in a way that would not affect his vocal chords. The 52-year-old singer, who remains in intensive care at Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, was described as barely conscious 13 days after suffering a stroke.
Chewie Back for Star Wars Prequel
Star Wars creator George Lucas plans to bring back Chewbacca the Wookie, C-3PO and R2-D2 for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode III. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas has already signed actors Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniel and Kenny Baker to reprise their respective roles for the prequel, which is currently in preproduction. This is the third installment of the films set in a time period prior to that of the original three Star Wars films. Production on the sci-fi actioner begins in late June in Sydney, Australia with a release date set for May 25, 2005.
Luke Perry and Wife Separate
Former Beverly hills, 90210 star Luke Perry and his wife, Minnie, have decided to separate after nearly 10 years of marriage, the AP reports. Their publicist said Monday the couple plans to share custody of their two children, Jack, 5, and Sophie, 2. Perry, who played teen rebel Dylan McKay on the popular Fox series, is set to appear in Beverly Hills, 90210: 10-Year High School Reunion, which is scheduled to air May 11 on Fox.
Mr. 3000 Lured to Louisiana
Disney will begin shooting the baseball pic Mr. 3000 starring Bernie Mac in Louisiana next month to take advantage of the state's new film incentive program, the AP reports. The film is set in Milwaukee but will be shot primarily in the New Orleans area. The incentive program offers state income tax credits to investors in movies made in Louisiana, a credit on payroll expenses and a sales tax exemption for productions costing more than $250,000.
Apple Unveils Online Music Service
Apple Computers unveiled Monday its new iTunes Music Store, which offers more than 200,000 songs available for downloading at 99 cents apiece, the AP reports. The service lets customers keep songs indefinitely, share them on as many as three Macintosh computers, transfer them to any number of iPod portable music players and burn unlimited copies of the songs onto CDs--without a subscription. The venture draws from all five major labels and includes artists who previously shunned online distribution.
Role Call: Brill Helms Paddle Comedy, Liu Is New Charlie Chan
Mr. Deeds director Steven Brill is in negotiations to helm the comedy Without a Paddle for Paramount Pictures. The picture is about three lifelong friends who find themselves on a canoe trip in search of a $200,000 treasure unaware of the obstacles in front of them, including a perilous river and hostile mountain men ... X2: X-Men United scribes Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris will pen a remake of the 20th Century Fox classic Charlie Chan, about a Chinese detective who works for the Honolulu Police Department. Charlie's Angels star Lucy Liu will produce the project and star as Chan's granddaughter, who takes on her own investigations.