Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) a bleeding heart poet and staunch environmentalist is convinced a series of unexplained coincidences involving a tall African doorman somehow mean something leading him to married metaphysicians Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin)--otherwise known as the Existential Detectives. Instead of looking for other people this pair tirelessly investigates the mysteries of their clients' secret innermost lives--their "Beings " so to speak--to help them answer their questions. Immediately digging in Bernard and Vivian find out that Albert has a deep-seated hatred for Brad Stand (Jude Law) a golden-boy sales executive at the popular retail superstore chain Huckabees who at first sponsors Albert's Open Spaces Coalition to save a nearby marsh from commercial construction but who ends up taking over the coalition. The Existential Detectives believe Brad may be the key to cracking Albert's case but get sidetracked when Brad hires them for himself--leading them to explore Brad's ambitions hang-ups and his superficial relationship with Huckabees' hot blonde spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). Meanwhile Albert becomes disenfranchised with Bernard and Vivian and pairs up with another of the duo's clients--firefighter tough guy and uncompromising soul searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Together they join forces with the Jaffes' arch nemesis sexy French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) whose life teachings revolve around "cruelty manipulation and meaninglessness." Now as Being intermixes with Nothingness Albert Tommy Brad Dawn Bernard Vivian and Caterine get all tangled up in one another as their wild romp through life's biggest questions brings them to some startling truths. Whew!
With such a clever script to back them up it isn't hard to see why the Huckabees wannabes turn in some cracking good performances. Schwartzman once again plays a nebbish sullen but lovable geek (similar to his side-splitting turn in Rushmore) bringing out the film's heart and soul especially with his environmental poetry ("You ROCK rock!"). Veterans Hoffman and Tomlin who are dead-on as the happily married Existential Detectives and Huppert as the deadpan French philosopher complement the proceedings beautifully. For the first time in a long time Hoffman doesn't overplay his part instead letting his quiet inner "Being" out taking his character's philosophies to heart ("Everything you ever desired or wanted to be you already have and are"). But who knew more serious actors--Mark Wahlberg Jude Law and Naomi Watts--could be so excruciatingly funny? Wahlberg's freethinking obstinate firefighter would rather ride a bike to a fire than get into a gas-guzzling fire truck while Watts' Dawn decides she doesn't need to be pretty and is fearless with overalls a bonnet and Oreo cookies stuck in her teeth. As the straight man Law actually has the most difficult part playing the handsome cad who thinks he doesn't believe in all that existential bullcrap but ever so slightly gets slammed with the reality of it anyway.
Writer/director David O. Russell is one fascinating guy. With a body of work including the really weird and wild Spanking the Monkey the hilarious slapsticky Flirting With Disaster and the intense Three Kings it's obvious he is capable of handling a wide variety of subjects. With Huckabees Russell gets into some serious deep thinking. He says he became "intrigued with the idea of a detective following someone around not for any criminal or personal intrigue but rather as part of a very serious investigation about existence itself " drawing concepts from several different strains of existentialism--from the non-dual interconnectedness theories of Eastern philosophy (Bernard and Vivian's take) to the Sartrean notions of a more meaningless universe that demands a profound individualism (Caterine's point of view). Huh? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it too much. Russell's bone-crushing sense of humor comes shining through--as does his unique vision as the camera is used in new and different ways (especially creative when Albert is trying to find his "Being")--to piece together a wondrous coherent albeit thought-provoking little gem. Oscar gold awaits.
Halle Berry stars as Dr. Miranda Grey a well liked and respected psychotherapist happily married to the beloved head of the psychiatric ward at an old damp women's penitentiary (Charles S. Dutton). One stormy night taking a detour on her drive home she's involved in a terrifying encounter with a young girl that causes her car to go off the road and the impact of the crash knocks Miranda out cold. She wakes up on the wrong side of a Plexiglas cell door in the very prison where she and her husband work (apparently this the only prison in the state) to find her husband's been killed and she is the prime suspect in his gruesome murder. With no memory of the past few days she is confined alongside her former patients like the Satan-paranoid Chloe (Penelope Cruz) and scrutinized by her once-flirtatious coworker Dr. Graham (Robert Downey Jr.). Miranda insists she didn't kill her husband but quickly starts to doubt her own sanity when a violent force from the not-so-sweet hereafter turns her into a Spirit World conduit. Meanwhile the good doctor wants desperately to prove her sane and innocent even as unseen forces bizarre sightings and bad lines get in the way.
You can practically see Berry's slight shoulders hunching under the weight of this oppressive wet flapdoodle of a psycho-mystic mystery that has The Ring written all over it. Berry gets the baffled/terrified/uncontrollable prisoner thing right says "Shit!" a lot and gets plenty of screen time to flesh out her character (no not THAT kind of flesh; she's drenched in the shower and submerged in the swimming pool but Berry never once pulls a Swordfish). Still cute after years of hard living Downey Jr. as Miranda's skeptical doctor ably smarms his way in and out of scenes in which he says little but raises much doubt about his true motivations--just one of several intriguing concepts abandoned in the face of a progressively trite storyline and escalating hoo-haw. Where it all just goes wrong--so so wrong--is in Cruz's greasy raving crackbird who shrieks lines like "He opened me like a flower of paaaain!" while trying to convince Miranda the Devil rapes her nightly in her cell.
Auteur Mathieu Kassovitz admirably sets the stage for a spooky thriller in the massive turn-of-the-century St. Vincent-de-Paul Prison an abandoned maximum-security facility near Montreal that serves as his women's prison. The setting is the only part of the film that holds any interest--it almost develops a life of its own which is more than can be said of the characters. Though Kassovitz resorts to Horror 101 (flickering lights suddenly appearing figures things that go bump in the night) these elements inspire dread and trigger a jolt regardless. So if the setting is suitably hair-raising the first few scenes effectively suck you in and the acting is passable what's the problem? Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez's script that's what. After an auspicious start the film drowns in nonsense and plot holes the size of which rival Michael Jackson's legal troubles until finally sinking like a stone with a truly pedestrian and ridiculous finale that unravels any interesting question raised in the two hours prior followed by a real howler of a denouement. "I don't believe in ghosts but they believe in me " says Miranda. Sorry we don't believe a bit of Gothika.
October 10, 2003 1:52pm EST
Top Story: Man Charged With Stalking Sheryl Crow
A former Navy diver was charged Wednesday with three counts of stalking and harassing singer Sheryl Crow, Reuters reports. Ambrose Kappos, 37, of New York, was also charged with burglary for breaking into the Hammerstein Ballroom near New York's Herald Square on Monday when Crow was rehearsing for a benefit show. Bail was set at $15,000 cash or a $45,000 bond but Kappos' court-appointed lawyer said it was doubtful his client would be able to raise the money to be released. He is due back in court on Friday to learn if he has been indicted on the charges. If convicted, Kappos could face seven years in prison.
Shyamalan Boards Pi Project
Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan could make his first film outside the Walt Disney Co. banner since his supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense in 1999. According to Variety, Shyamalan is looking to adapt the survival-at-sea tale Life of Pi, the prizewinning novel by Yann Martel, for 20th Century Fox. Pi is about a deeply religious 16-year-old Indian boy en route to a new life in Canada with a Noah's Ark of animals from his father's zoo in Pondicherry when the freighter transporting him sinks. The boy escapes in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg and a hyena, and becomes convinced that his own survival hinges on the wild cat. Shyamalan reportedly connected with the project because the protagonist, Pi, hails from his birthplace--Pondicherry, Tamil-Nadu province, in India. Fox is hoping Shyamalan will make Pi his next pic after wrapping The Village (previously titled The Woods), set for release in August. The pact breaks Disney's hold on the director, whose The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs have grossed $1.3 billion worldwide for the studio.
Siegfried: Tiger Was Protecting Horn
Speaking of one whose life was affected by a tiger, Siegfried Fischbacher, half of the Las Vegas performance duo "Siegfried & Roy," said in an interview on CNN's Larry King Live Wednesday that the 600-pound white tiger was trying to help Roy Horn after the magician took a fall in the middle of a performance on Friday at the Mirage hotel-casino. "I just saw that the tiger grabbed him on the sleeve ... and Roy said, 'Let go,' and the tiger let go and Roy bent back and he slipped," Fischbacher said. "The tiger (grabbed) Roy in the neck and he pulled him back on stage." Fischbacher added that the tiger sensed heightened danger when he and an animal trainer ran to Horn's aid and suggested the animal took him backstage to protect him. Horn is in critical but stable condition at University Medical Center in Las Vegas.
Roger Moore Knighted
Former James Bond actor Roger Moore was knighted by Queen Elizabeth Thursday for his work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nation Children's Fund, Reuters reports. Moore took over the role of secret agent 007 from Sean Connery in the 1973 film Live and Let Die. His last Bond film was 1985's A View to a Kill. The 75-year-old actor also had a word for fellow actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will become California's next governor. "If he does all the things that he says he will, then California will be an even better place to live in," Moore said.
Tribeca Announces Dates for Third Fest
The third annual Tribeca Film Festival will run from May 1-9, 2004 in Lower Manhattan. According to Variety, the festival announced a call for screenplay submissions to the Tribeca/Sloan development program for feature projects with a scientific or technological theme. The screenplay program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, provides financial support and mentorship over a one-year period from an advisory panel of filmmakers and experts in science and technology. Submission information for both the festival and Tribeca/Sloan program is available at www.tribecafilminstitute.org.
McCartney, Starr Attend Premiere of Harrison Tribute Pic
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving members of the Beatles, joined family and friends of George Harrison for the British premiere Wednesday of Concert for George, a filmed tribute concert for their bandmate who died of cancer nearly two years ago. "It's a great film," McCartney told The Associated Press. "It was a great night and it was lovely to take part in it and to be here with all our friends." Other guests included Eric Clapton, Robbie Coltrane and former race driver Damon Hill. Concert for George, which was performed last year at Royal Albert Hall, will have a limited theatrical release Oct. 10, and will be available on DVD Nov. 17.
Napster 2.0 Debuts in Limited Release
A new pay version of Napster debuted today in limited release almost a year after the pioneer file-swapping service was salvaged from software maker Roxio Inc. The company shelved its former online music service, pressplay, and is moving subscribers to a beta version of Napster 2.0, the AP reports. Napster 2.0 will launch with more than a half-million songs from all the major music labels and offer individual song at $1 per song and album downloads for about $10. Monthly subscription services will also be available. Roxio is betting the Napster brand will help set its service apart from other digital music retailers, including Apple Computers' iTunes, Buy.com's BuyMusic.com, RealNetworks' Rhapsody, MusicNow and MusicNet.
ABC To Air Wife-Swapping Show
ABC has agreed to air a local version of the UK reality series Wife Swap for a six-week run next summer. The show follows women from different social backgrounds who switch families for two weeks. Wife Swap, which will be renamed Trading Moms in the United Sates, has been a hit on the UK's Channel 4, drawing 5 million viewers. According to The Hollywood Reporter, ABC had previously commissioned a pilot show from the show's producer, RDF Media, which declined to provide further details.
Group Opposes Embedded Product Placement
When judge Simon Cowell takes a sip from a red Coca-Cola cup right in th
Steve and Terri Irwin are crocodile relocators in Far North Queensland Australia. They spend a lot of time well relocating crocs--saving a baby kangaroo and charming a few snakes along the way. But all that's about to change. A U.S. satellite has exploded in space and its black box has re-entered the atmosphere and ended up in the gut of a nasty 12-foot croc the Irwins are about to relocate. The FBI CIA and goodness knows what other agencies are out to find the box at any cost because it contains data that could change the world's power structure. When the agents cross paths with the Irwins they become convinced that the two croc hunters are actually spies mainly because as one agent says toward the end of the film "You don't make that kind of money in cable television." That's for sure and that's probably the reason the producers turned The Crocodile Hunter cable show into a movie. It definitely wasn't because the script was irresistible: The plot is as transparent as shed snakeskin and the acting (if it can be called that) is as stiff as the spikes on a croc's back. I'm sure this is the kind of movie that a critic shouldn't take seriously but from its lizard-pooh opening to its crocodile-pooh finish The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course really stinks.
Director/story writer/producer John Stainton was working with Irwin long before The Crocodile Hunter TV show became an international hit. In fact he wrote a movie script for Irwin in the mid-1990s that was scrapped because he didn't think Irwin should be acting. It's a shame he didn't take that thought process one step further; we'd all have been spared an agonizing guided tour of a good idea gone very very bad. The film's stars while appealing enough in the one-hour documentary format simply can't sustain a full-length motion picture and Mr. Irwin would have done well to heed his own advice--"Don't muck with it." Granted at least Stainton was smart enough to present the Irwins doing what they do best--enthusiastically working with wild animals while talking straight into the camera. The task of plot development is left to the other cast members--mainly Australian actors doing caricatures of Americans--who overdramatically play out the goofy spy plot in scenes that are completely separate from the Irwins' animal antics until the last 10 minutes of the film. The Irwin family dog Sui is probably the best actor of the bunch--and the smartest too. Most of the time she looks like she'd rather be just about anywhere else which is the most intelligent thing anybody in this film does.
As if anybody needed it The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is proof that what works on TV doesn't necessarily make a good movie; the Crocodile Hunter documentary routine quickly grows frustrating in the film because the Irwin scenes do nothing to further what little plot the movie actually has. Plus the reason why the Irwins continually talk into the camera goes unexplained until the very end of the film--and when someone finally mentions the fact that the Irwins have been "filming" their show throughout the movie it's so offhand that it's easily missed. At the same time the spy storyline that drives the plot is trite and because of the movie's bizarre structure it's played out by actors the audience couldn't care less about rather than by the ones they came to see. The spy scenes separate the Irwin segments like commercials--and like commercials when they come on you just want to get up and go to the bathroom grab a snack or feed the dog. The best thing that can be said for Stainton's direction is that at least he's not afraid of the film's ridiculousness. Bad though the movie is in every way Stainton puts it all out there as enthusiastically as Steve Irwin wrestles crocs and that's saying something. The film also gets across the Irwins' admittedly important message about conservation loud and clear but that probably won't be enough to keep its audience from becoming extinct.