The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Spanning from WWI to the 21st century Eric Roth’s screenplay (based loosely on a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald) tells the unique story of a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt). He is born in New Orleans as a very old baby the equivalent of a man in his 80s who then ages backward into youth over the better part of a century. The film is told in flashback by a very old dying woman Daisy (Cate Blanchett) who recounts her tale to her daughter (Julia Ormond) from a hospital bed during Hurricane Katrina. Left on the doorstep of a retirement home one night by his father (Jason Flemyng) Benjamin is brought up by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) who runs the place. While there he meets a young girl Daisy who will become a key figure -- romantically and otherwise -- in his life. Ben does have some grand adventures: He goes to work on a boat sees sea battles during WWII finds love with an older married woman (Tilda Swinton) -- and gets progressively younger as the decades fly by. It all manages to be alternately haunting romantic funny epic emotional and incredibly moving and will likely to stay with you a lifetime. Brad Pitt manages to deliver a thoughtful and subtle performance through all the special effects makeup and CGI. He does so much just by using his eyes. Cate Blanchett is equally fine as she plays Daisy from a teenager to an old woman and matches Pitt in bringing an entire lifetime skillfully to light. Her aging makeup is completely natural and she’s very moving in the hospital scenes opposite Ormond. Henson is just marvelous as Queenie a warm and understanding soul. Swinton is elegant and memorable in her few crucial encounters with Ben and plays beautifully off Pitt. Jared Harris (TV’s The Riches) as the colorful Captain Mike who hires Ben on his tug boat and Flemyng (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) as Ben’s father are also effective in their brief screen time. Interestingly Benjamin Button has been gestating for decades in the Hollywood firmament but needed time for the proper technology to catch up to it. Director David Fincher (Zodiac Fight Club) with his early background at George Lucas’ ILM proves to be the perfect choice to marry a compelling story with spectacular visual effects achievement. He did not want to do the film unless the technology allowed one actor to play the role throughout the course of the film. Remarkably they were able to achieve this superimposing Brad Pitt’s face and eyes into all the incarnations of Ben Button. In one sequence Pitt looks just like he did in Thelma and Louise. It’s an amazing feat. He has seamlessly created a unique universe without ever bringing attention to it advancing the art of screen storytelling leaps and bounds ahead of everything else that has come before. Benjamin Button is a plaintive and provocative meditation of life death and what we do while we are here. It’s the stuff of dreams.
Eighteen-year-old Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) has been for reasons too convoluted to go into left for dead. But his body’s still alive and his spirit – stuck in limbo – continues to interact with those around him desperately trying to communicate his existential plight before his body – hidden in a storm drain - expires. Being caught between life and death is probably a scary place but it’s likely more compelling than depicted here. The cause of Nick’s current dilemma is Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva) a juvenile delinquent and classmate of Nick’s whose troubled upbringing turned her into such a teen terror. Nick must try and compel Annie to locate his body but it takes an inordinate amount of time to do it during which the story – and the film as a whole - falls apart. After awhile it’s difficult to work up much sympathy to say nothing of any interest for what happens to these characters. Chatwin (Tom Cruise’s son in War of the Worlds) scores his first big-screen lead here and does about as well as can be expected under the circumstances which are fairly dire. With better material this might have been a decent showcase for his leading-man qualities. Better luck next time. Not nearly as fortunate is Levieva playing the prettiest leader of a high-school crime ring in recent memory. One minute she’s playing it tough and thrashing Nick within an inch of his life. The next she’s tearfully admonishing her little brother (Alex Ferris) not to make the same mistakes she made. It’s a terrible role and worse an inconsistent one. The biggest name in the cast Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays Nick’s domineering mother. Like many of the roles in the film it’s strictly one-note. Still it’s nice having a pro like Harden on hand – even if the film goes out of its way to squander her talents. Only Callum Keith Rennie as the obligatory detective on the case manages to bring a little credibility to the proceedings. So naturally the film ignores him for long stretches. David S. Goyer is better known – and rightly so – for the films he’s written (Dark City Batman Begins and the Blade films) than the ones he’s directed (Blade: Trinity anyone?). But the true blame here falls on screenwriters Mick Davis and Christine Roum whose attempt to combine a supernatural storyline doused with teen angst fails miserably. At times The Invisible feels like leftovers from The Sixth Sense Ghost Jacob's Ladder The Butterfly Effect (yikes!) any number of Twilight Zone episodes and even Groundhog Day. The Invisible is based on a Swedish novel and a previous film but like the many Asian chillers that undergo an “Americanized” remake something has been lost in the translation – starting with credibility even on its own terms. So many movies undergo reshoots these days but rarely has an entire movie felt like a reshoot. The Invisible has that dubious distinction.
November 28, 2005 10:54am EST
Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid) is a widowed Admiral from the U.S. Coast Guard with eight kids and one hell of a regiment. In fact you could call him downright anal retentive when it comes to raising his children. Meanwhile his poor kids ardently hope that someday they’ll land somewhere permanently. They get their wish when Frank runs into Helen North (Renee Russo) his former high school sweetheart. Helen is also widowed a free-spirited handbag designer with 10 kids who takes a more relaxed approach to parenting. Deciding its fate they’ve been reunited the two get married without their combined 18 children knowing about it. When the kids find out that their lives are about to drastically change all 18 of them band together to break up their parents--but learn a few life lessons instead. Sweet isn’t it? Watching Russo is always such a treat. Even grappling with a script like Yours Mine and Ours she manages to make the most of her eccentric flustered character. Quaid on the other hand deviates little from the character he played in The Parent Trap or The Rookie or any other movie he’s been in lately. If you have seen one of his movies you’ve seen them all. Thankfully the kids are the best part of the movie each of them finding a way to endear themselves. The youngest two kids--Ethan Beardsley (Ty Panitz) and Aldo North (Nicholas Roget-King)--are the most entertaining to watch because they are so young and naïve. Whether they are getting in trouble for something their older siblings put them up to or fearing the “hammer” (aka the Admiral’s discipline plan) they bring some welcomed relief in the otherwise stale comedy. Director Raja Gosnell best known for helming comedies such as Scooby Doo Big Momma's House and Never Been Kissed should know have known better than to try to resurrect and remold the Lucille Ball/Henry Fonda1968 original. It just isn’t necessary. To start with the story which is based on the real Helen North Beardsley’s book Who Gets the Last Drumstick? isn’t all that entertaining. It’s also a little dated for these modern times especially when we’ve seen the same material covered in far better films such as Parenthood. But at least Gosnell knows how to highlight the calamity of having 20 people together in one house--a house which also includes two large dogs and a pot-bellied pig. Yeah a pig. Whether it’s a paint fight among the family or a party among the older kids Gosnell puts you inside this zoo the Beardsley-Norths call home. Just be glad you don’t live in it yourself.
Another negotiating session between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. today, with several news reports suggesting that a settlement could be announced by the end of the day. Speaking at an investors conference in New York, Viacom chief Sumner Redstone said that his mood about the negotiations had changed to "cautiously optimistic" from "cautiously pessimistic" a few weeks ago. However, negotiators for both sides formally maintained a strict news blackout. "It is critical at this stage in the negotiations that the discussions remain in the room rather than negotiated through the media," WGA spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said Thursday. Barry Liden, a spokesman for the producers, said only, "I think both parties are interested in trying to reach a settlement as soon as possible."
TINA BECOMES $1-MILLION SURVIVOR
Defying Las Vegas oddsmakers, Tina Wesson won the $1-million top prize Thursday on Survivor: The Australian Outback. Favorite Colby Donaldson received the $100,000 "consolation prize." Although a great show was made of the fact that the final ballots were placed under guard and flown to Los Angeles, where they were not opened until Thursday night's broadcast, some TV writers were skeptical, noting that several Web sites, claiming that they had received inside information from a disgruntled network writer, had correctly posted the names of the winners of the last seven episodes, including the finale. Television critics appeared to agree that the final episode of the second Survivor series lacked the punch of last year's Survivor finale, but that it was effective nonetheless. Jonathan Storm, the television critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer called the show "agonizingly prolonged, stunningly hokey, yet surprisingly emotional and dramatic."
"BUFFY" "FINALE" ISN'T
Having lost its top-rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer sitcom to UPN, which is paying $2.2 million for each episode next season, The WB is promoting the final three episodes as the "WB series finale." Some analysts are suggesting that although technically correct, the promos are misleading. Bill Carroll, vice president of programming at Katz Television, told Friday's New York Post that, while the core fans of the series are aware of the network switch, "the more casual viewer might get the wrong impression, although technically they're saying the truth: it is the final three episodes of Buffy that will air on the WB."
12 BUGS BUNNY CARTOONS YANKED FROM NETWORK MARATHON
Turner Broadcasting's Cartoon Network has removed 12 cartoons from a Bugs Bunny Marathon set for next month because they include racial and ethnic stereotypes, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The newspaper said that although the 12 cartoons were originally going to be accompanied by prominent disclaimers ("Cartoon Network does not endorse the use of racial slurs. These vintage cartoons are presented as representative of the time in which they were created and are presented for their historical value."), executives of the network decided to yank them after receiving messages from executives of corporate sibling Warner Bros. expressing their displeasure. Warner's, the newspaper said, "stopped short of a veto."
TRIAL OF ALLEGED KILLER OF BBC ANCHOR BEGINS
The trial of Barry George for the murder of popular BBC anchor Jill Dando in April 1999 opened on Friday in London, with the chief prosecutor indicating in his opening remarks that George, a onetime BBC messenger, may have been holding a grudge against the public broadcasting corporation. (As reported in Friday's London Evening Standard, George once told a woman at a bus stop that he hated the BBC because of the way it had treated his idol, the late Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen. Dando had once participated in a BBC skit spoofing Mercury, the newspaper said.) Prosecutor Orlando Pownall added, however, "Whether he harbored a hidden grudge against her [Dando] ... is impossible to determine ... [but] it is not for the Crown to prove motive. There are compelling categories of circumstantial evidence which, when taken together, prove that Barry George was the man who was responsible for killing Jill Dando."
MOVIE REVIEWS: "THE MUMMY RETURNS"
The Mummy Returns is likely to drive last week's box-office winner Driven off the track and leave the rest of the competition far behind in the dust, most trade analysts agreed. The original 1999 film opened with $43.4 million, and analysts predicted that the sequel will at least do as well. But many critics were not persuaded that it's worth the price of admission. As the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell observed, "This enterprise is to the movies what an average boy band is to pop; just because there's an audience for it doesn't mean it's any good." Kenneth Turan puts it this way: "If you've been looking for a film like The Mummy Returns, The Mummy Returns is the film you've been looking for." Several critics commented that the sequel is not as entertaining as the original (they didn't like the original much, either), but Jonathan Foreman in the New York Post adds that the movie "is still perfectly enjoyable swashbuckling, eye-catching entertainment." Many critics note that the film is the first film of the summer (well, almost summer) aimed at teenage boys. But Philip Wuntch in the Dallas Morning News goes on to say, "its gleeful fun should appeal to all age brackets." Bob Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comments that, "like its predecessor, The Mummy Returns leaps and bounds, jokes and scares, roars and double-roars. And not for a single second does it ever feel real." But Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times faults the film for attempting to pack too much action into its two-hour length -- the very thing that is likely to draw the target audience. "Imagine yourself on a roller coaster for two hours," he remarks. "After the first 10 minutes, the thrills subside." (Apparently Ebert hasn't been around teenagers at amusement parks who eagerly ride roller coasters for an entire day.) Across town, Mark Caro in the Chicago Tribune likens watching the movie to a different kind of experience. It is, he says, "like standing behind someone playing a pretty cool video game. You may feel some vicarious excitement, but eventually you'd rather experience your own thrills."
CULKIN FINDS A WARM HOME OFF-BROADWAY
Former child film star Macaulay Culkin made his Off-Broadway debut Thursday in Madame Melville drawing solid notices. (He had originally starred in the play in London.) "Macaulay Culkin turns out to be quite the actor," writes Donald Lyons in Friday's New York Post, commenting also that he "embodies with remarkable poetry" the character that he plays, who is at times 30 years old (or older) and at others 15. Culkin is 20. Ben Brantley in the New York times comments that Culkin's performance "isn't all that accomplished by traditional standards. ... Yet this actor, who ruled the Hollywood box office before he turned 12 with hits like Home Alone and its sequel, turns out to serve the purposes of Madame Melville very well indeed."
CANADIAN COLUMNIST ACCUSES CHRISTY
The scandal over the Hollywood Reporter's freeloading gossip columnist George Christy has spread to Canada, where Toronto Star columnist Sid Adilman reported today (Friday) that Christy accepts free airfare, hotel accommodations and expenses to attend the annual Toronto and Montreal film festivals. At the Toronto festival, Adilman said, Christy also hosts a luncheon for visiting celebrities and local "movers and shakers" at the Four Seasons Hotel. Adilman reports that Gabrielle Free (sic), the festival's publicist, denied that it pays for his hotel, his expenses, or the celebrity lunch, although she acknowledged that it does pay for his airfare. The Reporter does not pay for the lunch, Adilman added. The Four Seasons Hotel declined to comment.
CAMERON SAYS DIGITAL CAMERAS WILL TRANSFORM FILMMAKING
Director James Cameron says that the development of small, digital, high-definition cameras will release filmmakers from many of the constraints that film cameras have imposed on them in the past. "One of the great advantages of HD, which hasn't really been thought about, is the size of equipment and its relation to the scene you're shooting," he said. As reported by the online edition of Britain's Empire magazine, Cameron remarked that traditional film technology, in which the film reel has to be physically adjacent to the lens, is "an ancient system...There will be much more flexibility and fluidity of movement because the physical size of the camera is so small."
S.F. FILM FESTIVAL WINDS UP
The San Francisco International Film Festival wound up Thursday, reporting record attendance of 80,893, up 18 percent over last year. The festival awarded its $10,000 SKYY Prize ("to recognize a first-time feature filmmaker whose film exhibits unique artistic sensibility") to Patrick Stettner's The Business of Strangers starring Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles.