While Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan helped define the style of a modern day war film it was his HBO mini-series Band of Brothers that truly captured the World War II experience. The multi-part saga dealt with every nook and cranny of the US military's involvement in the war from large scale battles to intimate character details. The new movie Red Tails developed and produced by Spielberg's Indiana Jones collaborator and Star Wars mastermind George Lucas attempts to cover the same ground for the sprawling tale of the Tuskegee Airmen—albeit in a two hour compressed form. The result is a messy handling of a powerful story of heroism. The good intentions make it on to the screen...but the drama never gets off the runway.
Red Tails assembles a talented cast of young actors to portray the brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group a faction of the Tuskegee Airmen. The ensemble is reduced to a jumble of simplistic one-note characterizations: Easy (Nate Parker) the do-gooder with a dark past; Lightning (David Oyelowo) the suave rebel who never listens to orders; Junior (Tristan Wilds) the fresh-faced newbie ready for a good fight; and the rest a nameless group of underwritten yes men all with just enough backstory to make you interested but never satisfied. Thankfully with the little material they have to work with the gentlemen excel. Rapper-turned-actor Ne-Yo is a standout as the quick-witted Smokey overshadowing vets Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who spends most of the movie chomping on a corn cob pipe and grinning).
With the plethora of characters comes too many plot threads and Red Tails stuffs its runtime with everything from epic flyboy dog fights romantic interludes (Lightning finds himself infatuated with a local Italian woman) office politics alcoholism and even a POW camp escape. If there was a true lead character the movie may have succeeded in stringing the events together in a coherent narrative but instead Red Tails is choppy and uneven. The aerial battles for all their CG special effects nastiness are incredibly exhilarating but when the movie's not tackling the intensity of a battle (which it does often) it comes to a near halt. That mostly comes down to history standing in the way—the crux of the story focuses on how segregation caused the military's higher ups to avoid utilizing the Red Tails in true battle. Meaning there's a lot of talk on how the team should be fighting as opposed to actually doing it.Director Anthony Hemingway tries to do this important historical milestone justice but the execution flies too low even under made-for-TV movie standards. Red Tails is a dull history lesson occasionally spruced up with Lucas' eye for action. The charisma of the the main set of actors goes a long way in keeping the film tolerable but they can't fill the gaping hole where the emotional hook belongs. This is a movie about heroes yet not once are the filmmakers able to pull off a moment that feels remotely brave. Which is unfortunate—as it's a story of the utmost importance.
Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
Set primarily in the week following the death of Princess Diana when the nation was mourning for “the people’s princess ” the events largely escaped the notice of the Queen Elizabeth (Mirren) who was on vacation at her Scottish estate. Without any official statement or public expression of grief coming from Buckingham Palace public sentiment began to turn against the Queen to the point that some were calling for the end of the monarchy itself. The newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) just four months in office found himself in the difficult position of trying to convince Her Majesty that she should respond to the public outpouring of grief even though Diana was technically no longer a royal at the time of her death. There followed a dialogue between modernity and the monarchy between honoring tradition and giving into public demands. Mirren is always regal and commanding--she’s already played two queens previously--and does absolute justice to the very tricky task of portraying a living high-profile subject in a sympathetic light. We see the stiff frumpy monarch we’ve glimpsed in photographs and on television but through Mirren we also see Queen Elizabeth’s wry humor and her deep sense of honor and duty. And we see her confidence falter during this crisis in which she realizes just how horribly out of touch she has become with her subjects. Mirren’s Oscar nomination is guaranteed. Sheen takes on the role of the brash novice P.M. with great aplomb. His Blair (whom he played previously in a TV film set before The Queen) is a man who’s eager to modernize the stodgy tradition-bound British government but also someone with a surprising devotion to the Queen. He’s easily the most sympathetic character in the film. We might admire Queen Elizabeth but we can’t help genuinely liking and trusting this young populist who’s so plugged into the nation’s mood. Stage actor Alex Jennings is less effective as Prince Charles partly because he looks nothing like him. Although he’s portrayed as deeply affected by Diana’s death he comes off as spoiled and petulant. James Cromwell(Babe) is an unlikely choice to portray Prince Philip the Queen’s husband. Here he is a cranky traditionalist who decries the “celebrities and homosexuals” being invited to Diana’s funeral and and is convinced that the hordes of people crying in the streets over her will eventually “come to their senses.” On the surface a look at how Queen Elizabeth and the royal family coped with the tragedy of Diana’s death doesn’t seem the likeliest subject for a film and certainly not one that would yield such entertaining results. But director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have managed to capture not just a historic moment in time when tradition and the modern world clashed but when the monarchy looked on the brink of collapse. Frears and Morgan undertook a tremendous amount of research and spoke to dozens of sources to create this surprisingly respectful peek behind closed doors of the ruling elite. One wonders if Prince Philip really calls his wife “cabbage ” but the daily routines and the milieus for the characters have an air of authenticity. The film seamlessly blends archival scenes with recreations especially impressive during Diana’s funeral. The film is restrained and subtle much like the England the queen says she admires but it has a wry sense of humor that sneaks in such as when Blair and his wife are being instructed in the necessary rituals of bowing and scraping for their first meeting with Her Majesty.
For a few years in the '60s and '70s producer Gerry Anderson made "supermarionation" all the rage in the world of British children's television. His stop-motion puppets starred in a number of sci-fi adventure series most memorably Thunderbirds which followed the exploits of International Rescue -- a team comprised of ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons. Based out of their secret fortress on Treasure Island the Tracys (aided by lovely secret agent Lady Penelope) used their amazing rocket-powered vehicles to prevent disasters and save lives around the world. Now 40 years after Thunderbirds' TV debut Star Trek vet Jonathan Frakes has brought Anderson's characters to life on the big screen. Front and center is youngest son Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) who dreams of the day he too can pilot one of his family's fab ships and lead missions. But first he has to prove himself to his father Jeff (Bill Paxton). That opportunity comes sooner than either expects when mysterious villain The Hood (Ben Kingsley) strands Jeff and the older Tracy boys in space and attacks Treasure Island. With only his friends Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Fermat (Soren Fulton) to help him Alan has to grow up quickly if he wants to save his family ... and the world!
It would be easy to mock several of the performances in Thunderbirds-- to chide Paxton for his earnest seriousness as Tracy patriarch Jeff to dismiss Corbet's angst-tinged eagerness as Alan to roll your eyes at Kingsley's over-the-top mystical fierceness as The Hood and to wince at Fulton and Anthony Edwards' nerdy stuttering as science whizzes Fermat and his dad Brains. But actors are only as good as their script and the one Frakes has given his cast (courtesy of screenwriters William Osborne and Michael McCullers) is weak and clichéd at best filled with after-school-special-worthy lessons for Alan to learn. "You can't save everyone " Jeff tells his son somberly and even Tintin has a moral for her crush when he's feeling selfish and indulging in self-pity: "This is hard on all of us Alan." Talk about insight! What makes it even more frustrating is knowing that the actors are capable of much more even the kids: Both Corbet and Hudgens did well with supporting roles in Thirteen. Thunderbirds' only real bright spot is Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope. A cross between Reese Witherspoon's Elle in Legally Blonde and Jennifer Garner's Sydney on Alias Myles' Lady P doesn't let her pink couture wardrobe prevent her from coolly kicking ass when the situation demands it. Attended by her droll driver/man-of-all-trades Parker (Ron Cook) Lady Penelope is a fresh feisty heroine with all of the film's best lines -- and the coolest car to boot.
Frakes cut his directorial teeth on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and his first feature film was Star Trek: First Contact so he would seem like a natural choice to bring a cult sci-fi TV show to the big screen. Unfortunately while he does an admirable job re-creating (and improving on) the original Thunderbirds' mod sets cool ships and special effects (which are fine if a bit more TV-sized than summer blockbustery) Frakes can't seem to decide who his audience is. If he was aiming at grown-ups who remember the show fondly from their own childhood he should have embraced the source material's campiness (à la Starsky and Hutch) rather than restricting it to the Tracys' plastic Barbie-like furniture and Lady P's bouffant hairdo. If on the other hand Frakes was hoping to entertain today's kids he should have really reinvented the show for a 21st-century world (à la Stephen Hopkins'1998 Lost in Space) rather than clinging to the '60s references As it is he's stuck somewhere in the middle leaving adults bored during the kids-on-an-adventure bits and children mystified by the handful of jokes aimed at their parents.
A throng of celebrities will participate in the upcoming 16-part public TV show Freedom: A History of Us, which will air in January. The series will feature Julia Roberts, Anthony Hopkins, Angela Bassett, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams reading from personal historical accounts, Variety reports. The series is based on the controversial textbooks written by amateur historian Joy Hakim in the 1990s. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will give the show an on-air introduction.
'N Sync band member Lance Bass has received informal word from the Russian space agency that he has qualified as physically fit to fly aboard a rocket flight to the International Space Station, Reuters reports. Bass, 23, is expected to start flight training on Monday at the cosmonaut center in Russia's Star City.
Sylvester Stallone's wife, Jennifer Flavin Stallone, has given birth to their third child, The Associated Press reports. Scarlet Rose was born Saturday at a Los Angeles hospital, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces. The couple already has two daughters, Sophia, 5, and Sistine, 3.
Longtime Hollywood couple Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins may perform in an Irish production of a play based on the Sept. 11 attacks. According to Reuters, the couple has agreed in principle to appear in The Guys at Dublin's Peacock Theatre in late August. The play is based on the experiences of Anne Nelson, a professor at Columbia University's journalism school.
Elton John has resigned as chairman of Watford, a British soccer team, after a 25-year association with the club, Reuters reports. John said in a statement on the club's Web site, "With the huge changes taking place in [soccer], it is obviously necessary for the board to be led by a chairman who will be able to devote more time to the club than I have been able to." Watford finished in 14th place last season.
Former Law & Order star Angie Harmon has been cast as a trainer of teen spies in MGM's upcoming kids movie Agent Cody Banks slated for release next summer, Variety reports. The film will also star Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff of Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire.
In the Biz
British director Jonathan Glazer, who helmed Sexy Beast, has signed on to shoot the remake of the Japanese film Chaos for Universal Pictures, Variety reports. The film centers on a grifter drafted to stage the kidnapping of a wealthy businessman's wife. Robert De Niro and Benicio Del Toro are in talks to star in the project.
A half-hour reality series based on Anna Nicole Smith will premiere on E! in August. According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Anna Nicole Smith Show will take a glimpse into Smith's daily life and include her 16-year-old son, Daniel, her lawyer Howard K. Stern and assistant Kim.
The FX cable channel and Artisan Television are developing a two-hour TV movie based on American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh. According to Variety, the film, tentatively titled American Taliban, will attempt to explain what motivated Lindh to fight for the Afghan extremists. If the project gets greenlighted, it wouldn't bow until 2003 at the earliest.
It looks like Sharon Osbourne will host the VH1 broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee concert on June 3. The all-star performance will feature Sharon's husband, Ozzy Osbourne, plus Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney. VH1 will air highlights of the concert, which will take place in the garden of Buckingham Palace in London, on June 9.
Rocker David Bowie may be embarking on a world tour in the near future, but not this year. In a journal posted on his official Web site, Bowie said he is often asked about doing a full-blown world tour and commented, "I have a real need to keep writing this year, and I always go with my gut feeling for what is right. Next couple of years, though? Who knows?"
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was sued for breach of contract by former business associate Tim Duffy in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, LAUNCH music reports. Duffy claims that, last summer, Ulrich forced him from his role as managing member of The Music Company, a now-defunct boutique label the two formed in 1996.
Mildred Wirt Benson, the original author of the Nancy Drew mystery series, died Tuesday at the Toledo Hospital in Ohio. She was 96. Benson wrote countless books and stories but is best known for creating Nancy Drew, a series that sold more than 200 million books in 17 languages and spawned a TV series. She wrote 23 of the 30 original stories using the pen name Carolyn Keene.