The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Actor Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf the Grey in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, said the title for the second film will not be changed despite an online petition urging the director to rename it. Fans apparently wanted the film, titled The Two Towers, renamed after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center last year. But McKellen wrote in his online journal at www.mckellen.com, "The notion that the title should be changed in respect to New York City's sensibilities has rightly been resisted." The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which stars McKellen, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee and Sean Astin, will be released in the United States on Dec. 18.
Grammy-winning R&B singer R. Kelly pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of child pornography during a brief hearing Wednesday at the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. Kelly was arrested in Florida on June 5 in connection with a videotape he allegedly made with an underage girl and remains free on bond pending an Aug. 7 hearing, Reuters reports. If convicted, the 35-year-old singer could face up to 15 years in prison.
Penelope Spheeris will direct a film based on Sex Pistol frontman Johnny Rotten's autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Rotten, whose real name is John Lydon, will be active as the film's creative consultant and will oversee the development of the film and the script.
Warner Bros. is planning a feature film based on Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall's Blue Collar Comedy Tour, which has grossed more than $12 million and produced a best-selling live album. According to Variety, the as-yet-untitled movie will be directed by C.B. Harding, who helmed last season's MTV reality series The Osbournes.
Dubbed one of the richest deals in history, filmmaker Ivan Reitman's production company, The Montecito Picture Company, has acquired The Ugly Americans from three former Seinfeld scribes for an astonishing $3 million, Variety reports. The script, written by Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer, caused fever-pitch bidding among studios, including Universal, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema and Revolution.
Dennis Quaid is in talks to star in 20th Century Fox's big-budget feature The Day After Tomorrow, a high-concept film about the disastrous effects of global warming, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Budgeted somewhere upward of $100 million, the film will be directed by Roland Emmerich, who helmed The Patriot, Godzilla and Independence Day.
New Line Cinema's family-friendly drama Secondhand Lions is scheduled to begin shooting in late September in Texas, Variety reports. Oscar winners Robert Duvall and Michael Caine will star as eccentric great-uncles taking care of Haley Joel Osment one summer. The studio is aiming for a late 2003 or early 2004 release.
The Sci Fi Channel is jumping on the reality-TV bandwagon this fall by introducing a new weekly primetime half-hour show titled Scare Tactics. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show, billed as a sci-fi version of Candid Camera, will be hosted by former Charmed star Shannen Doherty.
The "American Psycho" saga has taken another twist. After the movie ratings board made a final 11-4 ruling Wednesday upholding the film's NC-17 rating, Lions Gate Releasing announced that director Mary Harron will re-edit the film to achieve an R.
The film, which opens in April, stars Christian Bale as a young executive with a psychopathic taste for murder; it was given its rating for a scene depicting group sex among Bale and two prostitutes. But not to worry; we're sure the original cut will make its way onto DVD someday.
UN-MODEL BEHAVIOR: Supermodel Naomi Campbell apparently has worries deeper than which world runways to strut, as we reported Wednesday. The British diva pleaded guilty in a Canadian court to assaulting her former assistant and was given an absolute discharge, meaning she will not have a criminal record in Canada.
Campbell, 29, was accused by Georgina Galanis, who worked as her personal assistant while the model filmed a movie in Toronto, of grabbing her throat and hitting her on the head with a telephone Sept. 9, 1998. Three months later, Campbell surrendered to Canadian police.
British newspapers recently reported that Campbell spent nearly four weeks at a U.S. clinic to learn how to control her anger. She wasn't in the courtroom to plead guilty herself; the prosecutor explained that "she is a celebrity, she is a public figure, and there's all kinds of people under serious violent allegations wandering the courtrooms." Serious violent allegations. What was that old saying about people who live in glass houses?
HEALTHY HARVEY?: Miramax Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein left the hospital Wednesday and is now recuperating at home from a mysterious illness no one can figure out. His brother and Co-Chairman Bob Weinstein released a statement saying, "He thanks everyone for their support and good wishes and looks forward to returning to work during the next several weeks." Rumors have run rampant over the seriousness of his condition, which has been reported to be a bacterial infection. No other information was given.
MAMA MADONNA: When one child is a handful, have another? Madonna seems to think so. She told Jane magazine that she would like to have another child, because well, daughter Lourdes is becoming a brat. "I think Lola [Lourdes' nickname] should have a brother or sister," the Material Mom said. "I think she's incredibly spoiled. She needs a bit of competition." The 41-year-old singer also gushed to the Calgary Sun that 3-year-old Lourdes is "a great little singer and dancer and she has perfect pitch. ... She memorizes whole songs and then goes around the house singing them. Right now, she's into Mary J. Blige, the Spice Girls and me."
MUSIC BEAT: D'Angelo's latest, "Voodoo," finally bumped Santana's "Supernatural" from the top of the Billboard album charts this week. The R&B singer's album debuted at No. 1, while "Supernatural" fell to No. 2. Dr. Dre's "Dr. Dre 2001" held at No. 3. Celine Dion's "All the Way: A Decade of Song" and The Lox's "We are the Streets" round out the Top Five.
The Top Five singles in the country are: "I Knew I Loved You," Savage Garden; "Thank God I Found You," Mariah Carey featuring Joe and 98 Degrees; "What a Girl Wants," Christina Aguilera; "Get it on Tonite," Montell Jordan; and "Smooth," Santana featuring Rob Thomas.
QUICK TAKES: Jane Fonda and Haley Joel Osment have been tapped as presenters for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards on March 26 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Fonda, 62, a seven-time nominee and two-time Best Actress winner (for 1971's "Klute" and 1978's "Coming Home") will appear on the show for the first time since 1992. Eleven-year-old Osment is a likely supporting-actor nominee for his role in "The Sixth Sense," for which he has already won several critics' awards ...
... Ving Rhames has been named ShoWest 2000 supporting actor of the year by the National Association of Theater Owners. The 38-year-old actor appeared in two films this year, Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead" and the Sean Connery hit "Entrapment." Rhames will receive his honor at the ShoWest convention March 9 in Las Vegas. Please refrain from jokes about giving the award to Jack Lemmon.