Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be.
The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline
We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them.
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Still, the flying horse is pretty cool.
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Before this week, the five most embarrassing words you could ever utter were: I have Blake Lewis' album. Scratch that — the five most embarrassing words you could ever utter were: I love Blake Lewis' album.
Still, I found myself defending the American Idol Season 6 alum's debut effort, A.D.D. (Audio Daydream), on a daily basis back in 2007. "Break Anotha," "Gots to Get Her," and "Know My Name" — tracks off of the album were catchy gems, embarrassing spelling be damned. To fans of Lewis — who has never been given the credit he's deserved for revolutionizing Idol by transforming into an artistry-based competition — there was little reason why the beat-boxing musician couldn't top the charts alongside the buzziest acts besides a very uncool association with the worst season worst of Idol of all time. (Sorry, Season 9 — you're still the winning loser.)
But Lewis is now getting the opportunity to have the last laugh. The Idol alum has not only scored a contract with Republic Records five years after getting dropped by Arista Records, but he's landed the soundtrack to Microsoft Internet Explorer's "Explore Touch" ad campaign. (Also known as the same company that forced Alex Clare's "Too Close" into your head for months straight.)
RELATED: 'American Idol': Season 12's Big Problem
The musician, however, isn't the only Idol alum to experience a career rebound years after their appearance on our television screens. Here are some other singers from the reality series who found surprising success after they missed out on a confetti shower.
Kimberly CaldwellSeason: 2 (2003)Post-Idol Struggles: Caldwell parlayed her Idol experience into various hosting gigs for FOX Sports and MTV's P. Diddy's Starmaker. In fact, the singer seemed to abandon singing altogether, instead making bit appearances on TV programs.When It Turned Around: In 20011, eight years after she was eliminated on Idol, Caldwell released a record uner Vanguard/Capitol Records. Unfortunately, even after being given a chance to rebound, Caldwell failed to impress, selling just 3,000 records, and returned to television to host Oxygen's Best Ink.
Jennifer HudsonSeason: 3 (2004)Post-Idol Struggles: The poster woman for post-elimination success failed to make a splash with her first first singles, "Over It" and "Stand Up"... When It Turned Around: ...which is exactly why Idol fans were shocked to hear the singer scored the role as Effie in the big-screen Dreamgirls adaptation. One Oscar and a successful acting career later, and we're starting to think that Elton John is freakishly prescient.
Constantine MaroulisSeason: 4 (2005)Post-Idol Struggles: The sixth place finisher became more well-known post-Idol for his performances of the National Anthem at sports games than his self-titled album released in 2007. When It Turned Around: But, O say, we didn't see his massive Broadway success coming. After a turn in the short-lived Wedding Singer Broadway show, Maroulis appeared off-Broadway before scoring a role in Rock of Ages in 2008. And the Rock of Ages stint came complete with something even better than a confetti shower: a Tony nomination.
RELATED: 'American Idol': Have We Found Season 12's Winner?
Kevin CovaisSeason: 5 (2006)Post-Idol Struggles: Really, did you expect Chicken Little do to anything after placed 11th in the reality competition series?When It Turned Around: Though he never scored a record contract, Covais', ahem, interesting looks caught Hollywood's attention two years later in 2008. The Idol alum scored roles in Drake Bell's College, Lindsay Lohan's Labor Pains, and, most recently, Identity Thief. And Chicken Little, against all odds, continues to act to this day.
Katharine McPheeSeason: 5 (2006)Post-Idol Struggles: The singer, who some found to be as unlikeable as she was talented, found only modest success as a singer. Singles off of her first album, Katharine McPhee, didn't quite hit as hard as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and other Idol performances. One year later, she was dropped by RCA Records and in 2010, released Unbroken, which sold just 15,000 copies.When It Turned Around: Turns out audiences liked McPhee... just not as a singer. After acting alongside Anna Faris and Emma Stone in The House Bunny, McPhee scored the starring role on every musical theater's favorite hot mess, Smash. Though ratings for the series are still leaving something to be desired, McPhee has managed to at least make herself more likeable than Ellis.
Chris SlighSeason: 6 (2007)Post-Idol Struggles: Season 6's David Hasselhoff-loving funny man had everything going against him. Sligh finished in the unenviable 10th place, poised for little more than a footnote in American Idol's history of memorable auditions. After his season wrapped, Sligh recorded a solo album, but failed to gain attention outside of the Christian charts.When It Turned Around: The contestant, whose sense of humor clearly proved he had a talent for words, scored a No. 1 hit on the country charts with 2009's "Here Comes Goodbye," written for Rascal Flatts. Surely, that was enough to help him fulfill his goal to make Hasselhoff cry.
[Image Credit: Brian Dowling/PictureGroup/AP Images, Will Hart/NBC, Joseph Marzullo/WENN]
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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