As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
December 18, 2003 12:55pm EST
Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) a novice professor from UCLA lands a job in the art history department at Wellesley College in the fall of 1953 and she's thrilled at the prospect of educating some of the brightest young women in the country. But her lofty image of Wellesley quickly fizzles when she discovers that despite its academic reputation the school fosters an environment where success is measured by the size of a girl's engagement ring. Besides learning about fresco techniques and physics the women take classes in the art of serving tea to their husband's bosses something that doesn't sit well with the forward-thinking Katherine who openly encourages her students to strive for goals other than marriage. Katherine inspires a group of students specifically Joan (Julia Stiles) and Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) but newlywed Betty (Kirsten Dunst) feels Katherine looks down on her for choosing a husband over a career. Betty goes on the offensive and uses her column in the school paper to drive a wedge between the professor and the stuffy faculty. But while Betty puts on a happily married face her hostility towards Katherine is actually misplaced anger stemming from her miserable marriage to a cheating charlatan.
Katherine is Mona Lisa Smile's most complex and intriguing character and Roberts is a fitting choice for the part. Like an old soul the actress has a depth that's perfect for a character like Katherine who's enlightened and ahead of her time. But Katherine never emotionally connects with any of her students which isn't surprising since they're so bitchy and self-absorbed. Perhaps more time should have been spent developing the young women's characters and building their relationships with Katherine sooner but as it is the underdeveloped friendships between the women will leave viewers feeling indifferent rather than inspired. The worst of the bunch is Dunst's character Betty who is intent on making everyone around her feel unworthy. She has her reasons of course but they're revealed so late in the story that it's hard to suddenly empathize with her after having spent three-quarters of the film hating her guts. Stiles' character Joan is perhaps the most congenial but like Betty she never develops a strong bond with her teacher. The most "liberal" of the girls is Giselle played by Gyllenhaal but the character suffers the same burden as the rest: She's unlikable. Giselle's penchant for sleeping with professors and married men is so odious that not even her 11th hour broken-home story can salvage her character.
While Mona Lisa's smile in Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting has often been described as subtle director Mike Newell's star-studded drama is anything but that; Mona Lisa Smile is so heavy-handed that unlike the painting for which it was named there is nothing left for moviegoers to ponder or debate. The film plays like a montage of '50s ideological iconography: A school nurse gets fired for dispensing birth control; a teacher refers to Lucille Ball as a "communist"; Betty's prayers are answered when she gets what every woman dreams of--a washer and dryer. But the film's critical insight into '50s culture isn't as shocking as it thinks it is and the way it highlights feminist issues is as uninspired as trivial as a fine-art reproduction. Newell also spends too much time basking in the aura of the '50s era focusing on countless parties dances and weddings sequences that while visually ambitious are superfluous. The film may be historically accurate but its characters story and message will leave moviegoers feeling empty. A climactic scene for example in which Katherine's students ride their bikes alongside her car as a show of support comes across as a tool to evoke sentiment that just doesn't exist.
On its first day of release in Britain, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone sold an astounding 1.25 million video and DVD copies, breaking the 1.1 million sales record set by Titanic in 1997. Some stores even opened at midnight Friday to sell the video and reported large crowds, The Associated Press reports. Harry Potter videos and DVDs, which are distributed by Warner Home Video, are set to go on sale in the United States on May 28.
Madonna made her West End debut in the play Up For Grabs at London's Wyndhams Theatre on Monday evening. While members of the press were not allowed into the auditorium, fans who saw the preview show commented that the pop star got off to a nervous start but that her performance improved as she went along, according to the BBC. The show opens for a 10-week run starting on May 23.
Nicole Kidman's camp is dismissing rumors that the Aussie star is dating Spider-Man thesp Tobey Maguire. "They hung out together some, a couple of weekends ago. End of story. No romance," a spokeswoman said. Funny--we never even heard of the rumor until now.
"It's all untrue." That is what ex-football star O.J. Simpson is saying about an article that appeared in Ohio paper Toledo Blade, which alleges he did illegal drugs, the AP reports. According to the article, admitted drug dealers told federal agents they snorted cocaine with Simpson as far back as 1999 and sold him the drug as recently as seven months ago.
Sylvester Stallone, Thandie Newton, Gabriel Byrne and Stuart Townsend will star in Damian Nieman's directorial debut, Shade, for RKO Pictures. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is set in the world of poker hustlers working the clubs and martini bars of Los Angeles. Production begins in Los Angeles May 30.
Friends star Matthew Perry has agreed to star in two films for Paramount Pictures, including One of Us, a drama in which he falls in love with an alien who's cloaked in human form, Variety reports. Perry will follow that film with a comedy. The deal comes after Perry filmed Paramount's Serving Sara, alongside Elizabeth Hurley, which hits theaters this August.
In the Biz
Paramount has more than the Friends star up its sleeve. The studio, along with MTV Films, has teamed up with Ludacris and Original Film to develop a feature film based on the rap star. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Skip Day will be a sort of House Party meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off with Ludacris starring as a teenager who is transferred from an inner-city school to an uptight suburban prep school.
Following the success of the hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race, producer Jerry Bruckheimer is churning out four new shows for CBS this fall. The network has already picked up Bruckheimer's CSI: Miami and Without a Trace, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
A new Gallup Poll shows that Johnny Carson is ranked the best late-night talk-show host of all time, CNN reports. Respondents were asked to pick from six hosts, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Dick Cavett.
Richard Karn, who played Al on the successful series Home Improvement, will become the host of Family Feud, the AP reports. Karn will replace Louis Anderson.
U2 frontman Bono and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will begin a 10-day tour of Africa on May 20, the AP reports. The duo will visit Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Ethiopia to visit schools, AIDS clinics and various World Bank development projects.
Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford accepted an award from Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment on Monday, the AP reports. Ford was honored for his work with the board of Conservation International, in helping to save various plants and animals around the world.