Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and re-conceived by director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas James and the Giant Peach) in 3-D stop-motion animation Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) opens a world of twisted wonder when she passes through a secret door in her new house and suddenly discovers an alternate existence mirroring her own life but making it so much more interesting and satisfying until her Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) tries to turn her little visit into a permanent one. Fanning is the ideal Coraline -- curious fickle frightened and determined. She does an excellent job bringing to life this young girl suddenly caught up in an extraordinary adventure that rivals what Dorothy went through on the road to Oz. Hatcher is properly bland as her real mother and slippery as her Other -- she’s clearly having fun ditching Desperate Housewives. Standout is Keith David voicing an exquisitely drawn but quite mysterious Cat. There’s also brief but amusing work from the team of Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French (Absolutely Fabulous) as Coraline’s very very British and very eccentric neighbors and an even wackier Ian McShane as the Russian Mr. Bobinsky. Selick has created a modern classic that tops even his brilliant Nightmare Before Christmas turning the world of Coraline into something we’ve seen before. It’s Alice in Wonderland times 10 but despite its soft PG rating is really dark stuff. Kids won’t be turned off by this but some not-clued-in parents might. The film will be shown in both 3-D and regular formats but go for the 3-D version if possible. It’s a mind-blowing use of the technology and perhaps the best yet put on screen.
We meet the two very unlikely sisters while each are having sex. Rose Feller (Toni Collette) is a successful lawyer who is sleeping with her boss and thinking of ways it can improve her career. Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a party girl and at her 10-year high school reunion--after trying to have a fling in a bathroom stall--she ends up puking instead. Inevitably Maggie gets kicked out of her dad and stepmother's house and winds up on the doorstep of her sister. The Feller girls were close once when they were young girls especially after their mentally unstable mother died. But now their grown-up personalities clash rather dramatically. And when Maggie seriously crosses the line by seducing Rose's new boyfriend the straw is broken. Forced out Maggie stumbles upon some birthday cards from a long-lost grandmother and decides to go hit her up for cash. Turns out Grandma Ella (Shirley MacLaine) lives in a senior citizen's community in Florida that gets its humor from Golden Girls re-runs. Maggie may ingratiate herself within this new environment but isn't any more redeemed by reconnecting with Ella. She still acts like a petulant child. But rather than throwing her out Ella along with the gang of old folk forces Maggie to take some responsibility.
Collette (The Sixth Sense) is fantastic as the frumpy pudgy Philadelphia lawyer who gives up everything so she can walk dogs and lead a simpler life. But she's done this many times before--and honestly is so much better than Muriel's Wedding. Diaz (my personal favorite Charlie's Angel) doesn't need to stretch too far to play a conniving ditz with a heart. This is her There's Something About Mary role albeit a tad more screwed-up with a sister and lost grandma. So that leaves MacLaine as the saving grace for any worthwhile acting in this movie. Despite the obvious shuffleboard clichés--and the occasional leers at Diaz by the old guys around the pool--when the old folk are around the film gets lively and tolerable believe it or not. MacLaine leads the way with the quips and barbs but in a more subtle way than we are used to from this usually eccentric actress. The supporting cast of cranky cronies have some great moments especially veteran actor Norman Lloyd as the blind professor who teaches Maggie a thing or two about manners trust and family.
If this were Nora Ephron directing that would have been one thing but coming from Curtis Hanson the Oscar-winner who gave us L.A. Confidential it just doesn't mesh. Hanson can do quirky (Wonder Boys) he can do adventure (The River Wild) he can do hard-hittin' rap stories (8 Mile) and he can even do scary (Hand That Rocks the Cradle) but why in the world would he attempt a saccharine-soaked female family story that threatens to be a Crimes of the Heart tear-jerker? Screenwriter Susannah Grant who adapted In Her Shoes from Jennifer Weiner's popular bestseller of the same name also wrote Erin Brockovich and 28 Days. She understands strong female characters but there's still a major layer of sugar coating that Hanson can't scrape off. He doesn't tone anything down from Grant's script--not the overly cute dogs nor the embarrassing bridal shower nor the expected moments of guilt-tripping between the ladies. Instead he plods through the paint-by-number script and wraps it all up nicely into a crowd-pleasing film that is ultimately forgettable.
Tom Cruise thriller to open Urbanworld Film Fest
Tom Cruise's new thriller, Collateral, will open the eighth annual Urbanworld Film Festival Aug. 4 in Manhattan, The Associated Press reports. In the film, Cruise plays a contract killer who hijacks Jamie Foxx's taxicab. It also stars Jada Pinkett Smith and Mark Ruffalo. "Collateral is the perfect film to open this year's Urbanworld," festival founder and Urbanworld Films president Stacy Spikes said in a statement Monday. "This picture illustrates what the term 'urban' truly represents in 2004. Urban is about sensibility, not just ethnicity." lass="storylinks">Collateral opens nationwide Aug 6. The festival, which runs August 4 - 9, will include panel discussions and feature, documentary and short film screenings. It will also feature the Actor's Spotlight, with former honorees Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Dee Williams, Vondie Curtis Hall and Rosie Perez.
Zach Braff's film wins Maui Film Fest
In other festival news, Zach Braff's feature directorial debut Garden State was awarded best feature film at the fifth annual Maui Film Festival. According to the AP, a record 20,000 people who attended the festival. Braff, who plays Dr. John 'J.D.' Dorian on the NBC sitcom Scrubs, accepted the award as the five-day festival concluded over the weekend. The film, which opens in limited release July 30, revolves around a man (Braff) who returns home for his mother's funeral and breaks free of a lifetime of medication-induced passivity, striking up a relationship with a quirky young woman, played by Natalie Portman. Braff, 29, also wrote the screenplay.
AFI releases 100 best movie songs
The American Film Institute released a list of 100 best movie songs Tuesday, with the song "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz taking the No. 1 spot. The song made famous by Judy Garland as Kansas farm girl Dorothy was followed by "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca at No. 2, and the title tune from Singin' in the Rain at No. 3. The rest of the AFI top 10: 4. "Moon River" from Breakfast At Tiffany's; 5. "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn; 6. "Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate; 7. "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio; 8. "The Way We Were" from The Way We Were; 9. "Stayin' Alive" from Saturday Night Fever; 10. "The Sound of Music" from The Sound of Music.
Jessica Simpson cancels concert due to illness
Jessica Simpson had to cancel her Tuesday show in Providence, R.I., because of a kidney infection, Columbia Records spokeswoman Renee Pfefer told the AP. According to Pfefer, the 23-year-old singer is under a doctor's care and planned to resume her summer tour promoting her album In This Skin in New Hampshire on Wednesday. Simpson, who stars with her husband Nick Lachey on the MTV's reality series Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, was scheduled to go on stage before a nearly sold-out audience. Organizers hoped to reschedule the performance.
David Bowie gets sucker punched
A wayward lollipop hit singer David Bowie in the eye during a concert at Friday's Norwegian Wood Festival in Oslo, and although he wasn't seriously injured by the candy, the incident was enough to piss off the 57-year-old singer. "Lucky you hit the bad one," Bowie quipped to the crowd of 7,500, reminding them he only had one good eye since the other eye was damaged in a childhood fight. According to the AP, Bowie continued to joke about the occurrence throughout his performance. At one point, he threw one of his guitar picks into the crowd, and then asked if he'd hit someone in the eye. Norwegian newspapers tracked down the alleged culprit, who claimed it was an accident, but didn't publish her name.
Doris Day gets Presidential Medal of Freedom
Doris Day, who is being honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday in Washington, said her fear of flying will keep her from traveling to the capitol to accept it from President Bush. Day, who won an Oscar nomination for the 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk and made several gold records, blames her fear of flying on too many overseas trips with Bob Hope entertaining U.S. troops. "I saw him on his knees many a time, " she said. "In fact, we were all on our knees. We flew in snowstorms, whatever, to get to the next show. When I hit the ground, I said, 'Never again.'" The entertainer has also been recognized for founding the Doris Day Animal Foundation, which has sponsored annual Spay Days to reduce animal overpopulation. The Medal of Freedom distinguishes service in a range of fields, including the arts, sports, business and science.
Lollapalooza canceled due to poor ticket sales
The 2004 edition of the Lollapalooza tour was canceled due to weak ticket sales, organizers said Tuesday. This year's Lollapalooza lineup included Morrissey, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey the Flaming Lips, Pixies and Wilco. But Pollstar magazine editor Gary Bongiovanni told Reuters Lollapalooza was also was a victim of a talent roster that appealed to an older audience. "I look at that lineup and I see a lot of acts that have been around a long time. They're probably not bands that are going to be in the top five acts that your average 15-, 16- or 17-year-old is going to be listening to," he said. "The older you get, the less inclined you're going to be to spend eight hours out in the sun with 15,000 other people." He cited the Vans Warped Tour as an example of a tour that has done consistently well because its heavy emphasis on the "skate punk" bands that are popular with young listeners.
B-ball beats Clinton in TV ratings
Despite all the hoopla over his new book and hour-long TV interview, basketball finals beat out former President Bill Clinton's appearance on CBS' 60 Minutes in the week's TV rankings. Here are the Top 10 prime-time viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen Media Research for June 14-20: NBA Finals Game 5: L.A. Lakers at Detroit Pistons, ABC, 21.8 million viewers; 60 Minutes, CBS, 15.8 million viewers; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS, 14.1 million viewers; CSI: Miami, CBS, 14 million viewers; Without a Trace, CBS, 12.8 million viewers; Law & Order, NBC, 11.8 million viewers; Cold Case, CBS, 11.4 million viewers; Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS, 11.4 million viewers; Two And a Half Men, CBS, 11 million viewers; and Last Comic Standing 2, NBC, 10.4 million viewers.
Joan Rivers returns to Sin City
Joan Rivers will return to Las Vegas for the first time in nine years, appearing for four nights at the Stardust hotel-casino starting next Wednesday, the AP reports. "The last time I appeared in Las Vegas, they were wearing hoop skirts and Davy Crockett hats," the comedian joked. "But they say, 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.' And as far as fashion is concerned, that's a good thing." Rivers will be performing her "Can We Talk?" routine, a candid discussion about everyday life. Rivers also will be hosting the awards ceremony for the Stardust's Red Carpet Celebrity Slot Tournament, which is scheduled for Thursday.
Hardened by years of brutal but loyal military service special ops officer Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is assigned to find the president's apparently kidnapped daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell). Pairing up with his protégé Curtis (Derek Luke) Scott works diligently with a task force of presidential advisors the Secret Service the FBI and the CIA to find her and through their investigation they stumble upon a white slavery ring in the Middle East which may--or may not--have some connection to Laura's disappearance. The straightforward search-and-rescue mission is soon bogged down in political machinations and the girl's abduction starts to look even more suspicious than it did at first. In fact the mission comes to an abrupt halt altogether when the girl is supposedly found drowned from a boating accident. Scott returns to his quiet life until Curtis shows up and proves that Laura is still alive and most likely trapped in the white slavery ring. In a race against time Scott and Curtis embark on their own unofficial rescue mission--and put themselves at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the U.S. government.
Val Kilmer probably won't be joining Mamet's dedicated circle of players--which includes Joe Mantegna William H. Macy and Mamet's wife actress Rebecca Pidgeon--any time soon. While it's clear Kilmer took the role to work with the talented writer/director he isn't well suited to deliver "Mamet-speak"--the rapid fire delivery of terse dialogue the writer is known for--and Kilmer looks uncomfortable trying to do it. The gifted actor who can't help but bring in his own quirky sensibilities to the part still hits the nail on the head as steely resolute Scott. But the minute he starts dispensing sage advice--Mamet-style--Kilmer sticks out like a sore thumb. Same goes for Luke (Antwone Fisher) who is entirely miscast as Scott's sidekick. Others in the ensemble however handle the Mamet chores more adeptly including Macy and Ed O'Neill (yes the guy from TV's Married ... With Children) as presidential aides.
Spartan's real problem however is that it's a thriller without much thrill. Mamet's expertise is in creating scenarios within a microcosm whether it's a world of con artists (House of Games; The Spanish Prisoner) salesmen (Glengarry Glen Ross) or even showbiz (State and Main). These Mamet films are even-keeled--almost devoid of emotion. He sets up characters and actions relevant to that particular world so when characters spout lines in Mamet's distinctive style it comes off as perfectly natural. Yet with Spartan Mamet is tackling a bigger grander picture and when his style is applied to the world as a whole it doesn't work. Plus in the thriller genre the audience needs to feel invested in the characters and Mamet's distant unemotional style doesn't lend itself to sending the audience's collective hearts racing. The only poignant moment in the film belongs to Bell as the wounded daughter who just wants a little attention from Daddy and the only truly exciting moments are during her rescue. That said however Spartan proves Mamet still knows how to craft a story. Although the script is at times vague and convoluted it thankfully never falls into any of the genre's usual patterns and it throws in enough twists to keep you on your toes.