Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Fela!, about the life of revered African world music star Fela Kuti, will go up against Green Day's American Idiot, Memphis, and Million Dollar Quartet in the coveted Best Musical category at the 64th annual prizegiving, which honours the best on Broadway.
Meanwhile, Grammer and Hodge, who star as a camp gay couple in La Cage, will compete against Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises), Chad Kimball (Memphis) and Sahr Ngaujah (Fela!) for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
The evening is sure to be a star-studded event, with Hollywood actors Jude Law (Hamlet), Alfred Molina (Red), Liev Schreiber (A View from the Bridge), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane) and Denzel Washington (Fences) pitted against each other for the Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play award.
Washington's co-star Viola Davis will battle it out in the category for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, against Valerie Harper (Looped), Linda Lavin (Collected Stories), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still) and Jan Maxwell (The Royal Family).
Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music), Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture), Montego Glover (Memphis) and Christiane Noll (Ragtime) received nods for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, and Scarlett Johansson's Broadway debut in A View from the Bridge has earned her a nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.
Nominations for Best Play include In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), Next Fall, Red and Time Stands Still.
The winners will be announced on 13 June (10) at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The main list of nominees is as follows:
In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Time Stands Still
Million Dollar Quartet
Best Book of a Musical:
Everyday Rapture - Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Fela! - Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones
Memphis - Joe DiPietro
Million Dollar Quartet - Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre:
The Addams Family - Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Enron - Music: Adam Cork, Lyrics: Lucy Prebble
Fences - Music: Branford Marsalis
Memphis - Music: David Bryan, Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan
Best Revival of a Play:
Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family
A View from the Bridge
Best Revival of a Musical:
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play:
Jude Law - Hamlet
Alfred Molina - Red
Liev Schreiber - A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken - A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington - Fences
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:
Viola Davis - Fences
Valerie Harper - Looped
Linda Lavin - Collected Stories
Laura Linney - Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell - The Royal Family
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical:
Kelsey Grammer - La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes - Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge - La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball - Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah - Fela!
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:
Kate Baldwin - Finian's Rainbow
Sherie Rene Scott - Everyday Rapture
Montego Glover - Memphis
Christiane Noll - Ragtime
Catherine Zeta-Jones - A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play:
David Alan Grier - Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson - Fences
Jon Michael Hill - Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken - Enron
Eddie Redmayne - Red
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play:
Maria Dizzia - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Rosemary Harris - The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht - A View from the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson - A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell - Lend Me a Tenor
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical:
Kevin Chamberlin - The Addams Family
Robin De Jesus - La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald - Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis - Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert - Ragtime
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical:
Barbara Cook - Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran - Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury - A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit - Come Fly Away
Lillias White - Fela!
Best Direction of a Play:
Michael Grandage - Red
Sheryl Kaller - Next Fall
Kenny Leon - Fences
Gregory Mosher - A View from the Bridge
Best Direction of a Musical:
Christopher Ashley - Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge - Ragtime
Terry Johnson - La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Rob Ashford - Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Lynne Page - La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp - Come Fly Away
Jason Carr - La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson - Fela!
Jonathan Tunick - Promises, Promises
Daryl Waters & David Bryan - Memphis
Best Scenic Design of a Play
John Lee Beatty - The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge - Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto - Fences
Christopher Oram - Red
Best Scenic Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Christine Jones - American Idiot
Derek McLane - Ragtime
Tim Shortall - La Cage aux Folles
Best Costume Design of a Play:
Martin Pakledinaz - Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero - Fences
David Zinn - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Catherine Zuber - The Royal Family
Best Costume Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Santo Loquasto - Ragtime
Paul Tazewell - Memphis
Matthew Wright - La Cage aux Folles
Best Lighting Design of a Play:
Neil Austin - Hamlet
Neil Austin - Red
Mark Henderson - Enron
Brian MacDevitt - Fences
Best Lighting Design of a Musical:
Kevin Adams - American Idiot
Donald Holder - Ragtime
Nick Richings - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel - Fela!
Best Sound Design of a Play:
Acme Sound Partners - Fences
Adam Cork - Enron
Adam Cork - Red
Scott Lehrer - A View from the Bridge
Best Sound Design of a Musical:
Jonathan Deans - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Kaplowitz - Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen - A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier - Sondheim on Sondheim
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre:
Regional Theatre Tony Award:
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut
Isabelle Stevenson Award:
David Hyde Pierce
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre:
Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Pixar makes it ten gems in a row with this enchanting animated story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen a recent widower who decides to fulfill his (plus his late wife’s) lifelong dream of tying thousands of balloons to their house and floating off to a mountaintop in South America. But he soon discovers a stowaway in the form of Russell a precocious eight-year-old “Wilderness Explorer” who he reluctantly allows to accompany him on his journey. Together the unlikely pair embark on the adventure of a lifetime encountering Kevin a rare 13-foot tall-flightless bird; Dug an overly-friendly talking pooch; and Charles Muntz a once-famous adventurer who now lives alone in a massive airship surrounded by a pack of attack dogs.
WHO’S IN IT?
Sticking to their general custom of casting actors not big stars in key voice roles Pixar assembled a superb cast for Up led by veteran TV star Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as the aged Carl who takes flight in his house and finds there is a lot to learn about life even as you near death. Asner’s grumpy delivery provides the perfect counterpoint to nine-year-old Jordan Nagai’s Russell a bright and optimistic kid who proves an invaluable assistant to Carl throughout their journey. Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) is authoritative and intriguing as the obsessed Muntz and John Ratzenberger (Cheers) extends his streak of Pixar films to 10 as a construction engineer who tries to convince Carl to sell his house. Bob Peterson does delightful double duty as two of the key dog voices lovable Dug and the menacing Alpha head of the pack.
Like Pixar’s previous Oscar-winning masterpiece Wall-E Up is a ‘toon that is not content to explore the same places we’ve seen in previous animated blockbusters. Centering an action comedy around a 78-year-old man isn’t a strategy you’ll find in the youth-obsessed Hollywood recipe book but it pays great dividends here with a moral that life’s greatest adventure is the one you share with someone you love. The non-humans — particularly Kevin and Dug — are hilarious and unique and a silent sequence detailing the courtship and marriage of the Fredricksens is a sweet touch that could have come straight out of a Charlie Chaplin movie.
With a string of critically-acclaimed hits that includes Toy Story Finding Nemo The Incredibles Ratatouille Wall-E and now Up Pixar is ruining it for everyone else. There is simply no way they can be topped when it comes to pushing the boundaries of animated movies. Bad for other studios. Good for us.
Could Up which just became the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival also become the first to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar since Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (before the Animation category was even established)? At this point in the year it’s actually a good bet. Whatever the case expect Up to earn several nominations come Oscar time.
A swashbuckling swordfight across the skies between two near-octogenarians? It’s the best action scene in a summer full of ‘em.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Oh pleeeeeease! Get to a theater fast. Up is also available in 3-D at select locations. Either way it’s a must-see.
Pity poor Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). Captured while fighting in the first Gulf War he is subjected to behavioral modification experiments at the hands of an evil corporation. The brainwashing is so gruesomely succesful that Shaw will even kill one of his own men simply for the asking. But what a difference a decade makes. The son of a U.S. Senator (Meryl Streep) Raymond is now a congressman in his own right and a war hero as well for his supposed role in his troop's escape. Strange thing about that escape though he can't remember it and neither can the men he served with. Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) was his commanding officer now is plagued by headaches and a creeping dread that something isn't right. But the national election looms and suddenly his friend Raymond Shaw looks ripe for a spot on the ticket. And if that wasn't enough a cute but mysterious young woman (Kimberly Elise)is suddenly very curious about poor Major Marco.
Washington is (no surprise) great and fans of the original might also enjoy his radically different take on the character first played by Frank Sinatra. His Marco shows the effects of the captivity much more and it is fun to watch this normally poised actor slowly become a mess. Schreiber is fine in the thankless role of
Raymond Shaw although he may have been disappointed to learn that his Shaw is basically just a nice misunderstood guy. The original played indelibly by Laurence Harvey was a haughty elitist turned into a mindless automaton a much meatier role. The only actor who really struggles is Streep of all people. Her pivotal Eleanor Shaw is a caricature of Hillary Clinton full of power-player tics and
corporate-drone ambitions but lacking the intestinal fortitude to propel the movie somewhere interesting. Even with three main characters hers requires the most focus but it's as if she can't bring herself to do the dirty work. She's not evil she's just vaguely unlikeable. Movie fans should see the original for Angela Lansbury's Oedipal nightmare monster of a performance in the Streep role. Near the end she gives one of the creepiest most chilling speeches ever put on film touching on aspects of fascism McCarthyism zealotry and murder and culminating with a gasp-inducing kiss planted sloppily on her own son's lips. It is as shocking now as it was forty years ago but nothing in the 2004 version approaches that level of intensity intelligence or audacity.
The blame for this mess lies firmly with Jonathan Demme. Sure some people will never be happy with a remake and most won't care but to fumble this badly is either very inept or very calculated (which is even worse). Updating the brainwashing scenes to seem more convincing or the convention footage to seem more modern would seem
to be a slam dunk but Demme doesn't handle these well. The brainwashing scenes in the original were a model of subtle surreal ingenuity but here they are obvious and clichéd. And Demme still has that excruciating tendency to cram in as many cameos as possible taking the viewer repeatedly out of the movie. That's annoying enough
in something like Around the World in 80 Days but in a thriller that relies on suspended disbelief? Inexcusable. Many of the script and character choices seem straight out of Paramount marketing. Washington's a bigger actor than Schreiber so give him a bigger role. Fine. But some plot points (yet another faceless corporation as the root of all evil for example) make the movie bland for no reason at all. And others (a pivotal scene with Senator Jordan and his daughter played by Jon Voight and Vera Farmiga for example) are so idiotically reimagined that they show a hateful disdain for the audience's intelligence. Married to the Mob and Something Wild showed the quirky sensibilities of Demme's immense talent. The Silence of the Lambs was a certified classic. But now he's just riding that endless studio gravy train into the sunset and it's a shame.
The year's first space disaster flick, "Supernova," will blast into the stratosphere this week.
Along with the sci-fi thriller, this week's openers include the family drama "My Dog Skip," Ice Cube's "Next Friday" and the baseball documentary "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."
Here's a look at the new films hitting theaters - and the films already around going into new release patterns:
"The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" (Cowboy Booking) -- Portrait of the legendary Bronx-born Jewish baseball player who came close to breaking Babe Ruth's home-run record. Tall, handsome, and uncommonly good-natured, Greenberg was a secular Jew from Bronx who became "the baseball Moses," an icon for everyone from Walter Matthau to Alan Dershowitz. (Limited release)
"My Dog Skip" (Warners) -- Based on the autobiographical book by Willie Morris, the film chronicles the growing pains of an unpopular, introverted 9-year-old boy living in a small Mississippi town during World War II. The arrival of a Jack Russell terrier puppy on his birthday will open the boy up to valuable lessons of life and friendship. Kevin Bacon plays his overprotective father. Diane Lane co-stars as his mother. (Limited release)
"Supernova" (MGM/UA) -- Set in the 22nd century, this sci-fi thriller follows the rescue mission of Nightingale 229, an ambulance spacecraft dispatched to investigate a distress signal from a distant comet. Awaiting the six members are a lone survivor, a strange alien artifact and a star that is about to go supernova. James Spader, Angela Bassett and Lou Diamond Phillips play the time-bound rescuers. (Wide release)
"Next Friday" (New Line) -- Ice Cube produces, writes and stars in this sequel to 1995's comedy hit "Friday." The action picks up where the original film left off with Cube taking down the neighborhood bully. In fear of revenge, the young man flees the inner city to hide out at his uncle's suburban home. (Limited release)
"The Quarry" (First Run) -- Set in the South African outback, an escaped criminal accidentally kills a minister and assumes his identity. His action catches up with him when a band of petty thieves discover his true identity and threaten to expose the impersonator. Based on the novel by South African writer Damon Galgut. (Limited release)
"The Terrorist" (Phaedra) -- Inspired by events surrounding the assassination of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, this insightful portrait traces the final days of a female bomber preparing for a suicide mission to kill a major political figure. Her ideological quest transforms into a spiritual and psychological journey after a series of encounters she has with various characters. (Limited release)
"Girl, Interrupted" (Sony) - Winona Ryder stars in this based-on-a-true story tale of a teen confined to a psychiatric ward. Angelina Jolie co-stars as a fellow patient. (Expanded release)
"Holy Smoke!" (Miramax) -- Kate Winslet plays a young Australian woman who journeys to India for spiritual enlightenment. When her family suspect her transformation is in fact the doing of religious brainwashing, they hire Harvey Keitel to rescue her. Undermining his task, the experienced guru gets sucked into a world of temptation. Directed by Academy Award-winning director Jane Campion. (Expanded release)
"The Hurricane" (Universal) - Denzel Washington stars as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the real-life middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted of the murders of three white men in 1966. Deborah Kara Unger, John Hannah and Liev Schreiber co-star as the activists who champion his cause. (Expanded release)
"Jesus' Son" (Lions Gate) -- Billy Crudup plays an itinerant junkie stumbling across 1970s America, searching for meaning in everything from drugs and sex to chance encounters with anonymous strangers. Samantha Morton, Holly Hunter, Denis Leary and Dennis Hopper co-star. (Expanded release)
"Topsy-Turvy" (USA) -- Acclaimed director Mike Leigh leaps back in time to enter the lives of two Londoners who were marked by their extraordinary creativity: William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. (Expanded release)