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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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
The crime spree is over. "The Sopranos" will have to kiss someone else's ring -- namely, the big boss man's, the president of the United States of TV America.
"The West Wing" was named Best Drama Series at the 52nd Annual Emmy Awards, capping a night wherein the political drama dominated, save for one major setback when James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos" bested Martin Sheen in the competition for Best Actor in a Drama Series.
"I think the Academy has an affinity for slightly overweight bald men," Gandolfini quipped onstage.
Gandolfini's win was the lone bright spot for "The Sopranos," which otherwise got whacked -- like when Sela Ward of ABC’s "Once and Again" beat both Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco for the Best Actress in a Drama Series Emmy. "The Sopranos" came into the night with 18 nominations.
Hollywood.com's Sandy Kenyon asked Gandolfini: "It's been a long kind of overnight success for you. What was going through your mind and is this a form of sweet justice for you?"
"I didn't feel any miscarriage of justice last year or anything like that, I'm just pleased to be in the show, doing the work we do,” Gandolfini said. “I didn't feel anything went wrong last year, so this year is just icing on the cake for me personally."
Meanwhile, Sheen was doing a lot of congratulatory on-camera hugging, as his comrades made their way to the stage to accept their trophies. Among the other honors for "The West Wing" were Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Allison Janney) and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Richard Schiff); Best Writing in a Drama Series (Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland); and Best Direction in a Drama Series (Thomas Schlamme).
"I've got a 'West Wing' feeling," host Gary Shandling mused halfway through the telecast.
NBC’s “Will & Grace” came away with some big wins, including Best Comedy Series and Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Megan Mullally and Best Supporting Actor in A Comedy Series for Sean Hayes.
The lead actor and actress in “Will & Grace,” Eric McCormack and Debra Messing, respectively, lost out to Michael J. Fox for ABC’s “Spin City” and Patricia Heaton of CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
HURRY IT UP: The Emmys aren't known for brevity. In recent years, the broadcast has dragged on well past the allotted running time, but this year's festivities wrapped up within its three-hour slot. Just barely.
During the final hour, that tinkly "get off the stage, already" piano music was heard often as awardees dragged on too long with acceptance speeches. Host Shandling was cut off in mid-sentence as he introduced presenter Bruce Willis, who walked onstage before his cue and explained, "We're running really late" under his breath.
The producers tried (mostly in vain) using TelePrompTers to quicken the pace -- a fact that Jack Lemmon inadvertently revealed, when he unconsciously read the "please wrap up" cue out loud.
In his opening monologue, Shandling said, "You know what slows this show down? It's the awards," and jokingly suggested that the names of winners be taped to the bottom of their seats to save time.
Not a bad idea.
Here's a brief blow by blow of the highlights of the 2000 Emmy telecast:
THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A GOOD POTTY JOKE: This being an awards telecast, there were of course lots of pre-taped and live time killers in between the awards and commercials.
The best of these was a "Big Brother" parody, wherein Shandling was caught on camera in the men's room. The valet offering him a hot towel was David Duchovny, who informed Shandling that a vote was taken and his bathroom privileges had been revoked. Guess you had to be there.
The whole show began, of course, with a "Survivor" parody that featured a mock vote of the Tribal Council (with celebrity members including Andy Richter of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" fame). The winner of which would be named host of the Emmy telecast and also get an SUV. Shandling tried to cop out, asking if he could just take the car instead. Guess you had to be there for that one, too.
There were other funny gags. Conan O'Brien did a self-effacing bit about paying lip service to women's issues so he could get a date to next year's Emmys; and Shandling did a tribute to his idea of "risk taking" TV: like the Home Shopping Network, "Jerry Springer," monster trucks, "Teletubbies," "Xena" and The Weather Channel.
PRESSING THE FLESH: Hubba, hubba. Was it just the fact that we're watching the Emmy telecast on crystal-clear satellite TV, or did everyone see Geena Davis' um, er, um, ahem ... nipples? Is Renny Harlin nuts? She's the most beautiful over-40 woman in the universe -- see-through, skin-tight outfit or no.
I SEE DEAD PEOPLE: The annual montage of dearly departed TV celebs featured Loretta Young, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Madeline Kahn, John Gielgud, George C. Scott, Larry Linville, Meredith MacRae, Gene Rayburn, Durward Kirby, Shirley Hemphill, Hoyt Axton, Nancy Marchand, Leonard Goldenson, Clayton Moore, Doug Henning, Craig Stevens, Mary Jane Croft, Mabel King, Charles M. Schulz, Alec Guinness and Walter Matthau.
WHO'S THAT, ER, GIRL? Cher's got blonde hair now. She looks just like Christina Aguilera, sort of. Just thought you'd like to know.
WE LIKE MIKE: The evening's biggest no-brainer was probably Michael J. Fox's win for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. The actor received the second standing O of the night (the first went to Jack Lemmon) as he took his first "Spin City" Emmy in four tries and fourth trophy overall (he got three for "Family Ties").
NBC won bragging rights for the night, taking 23 Emmys. HBO won 20, ABC 15, Fox 11 and CBS 7.