The story of the most dominant racehorse of all time does not easily fit into the standard inspirational sports flick mold. Such films typically require its protagonists to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles be they competitive (Hoosiers) personal (The Natural) societal (Ali) or some combination of all three (Remember the Titans). But by all accounts the greatest challenges to Secretariat capturing of the 1973 Triple Crown were not rival horses — indeed Secretariat had no true rival — but a pair of slow starts and an abscess. And abscesses — apologies to dermatologists — simply aren’t all that effective as dramatic devices.
Lacking most of the vital ingredients of the traditional underdog movie formula Disney’s Secretariat is forced to synthesize them. Its screenplay written by Mike Rich and based rather loosely on the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack adopts a conventional save-the-farm framework: When her parents pass away within months of each other Denver housewife Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) is advised to sell off her family’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables a beautiful but unprofitable horse-breeding enterprise in order to pay the onerous inheritance taxes levied by the state. But Penny her deceased father’s hackneyed horse-inspired counsel fresh in her mind (“You’ve got to run your own race ” etc. etc.) is loath to depart with such a cherished heirloom. So she concocts a scheme just idiotic enough to work betting the farm — literally — that her new horse Big Red in whom she has an almost Messianic faith will win the Kentucky Derby Preakness and Belmont races in succession.
Of course Big Red under the stage name Secretariat goes on to do just that but only after the film subjects us to nearly two hours of manufactured melodrama. Lane grasping all-too conspicuously for awards consideration treats every line as if it were the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Her character Penny exhibits a hair-trigger sensitivity to the sounds of skeptics and naysayers bursting forth with a polite rebuke and a stern sermon for anyone who dares doubt her crusade from the trash-talking owner of a rival horse to her annoyingly pragmatic husband (Dylan Walsh).
Lane isn’t alone in her grandiosity. The entire production reeks of it as director Randall Wallace lines the story with fetid chunks of overwrought Oscar bait like so many droppings in an untended stable even using Old Testament quotations and gospel music to endow Penny’s quest with biblical significance. John Malkovich is kind enough to inject some mirth into the heavy-handed proceedings hamming it up as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin a French-Canadian curmudgeon with an odd sartorial palette. It’s not enough however to alleviate the discomfort of witnessing the film's quasi-Sambo depiction of Secretariat’s famed groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) which reaches its cringeworthy zenith when Sweat runs out to the track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes and exclaims to no one in particular that “Big Red done eat his breakfast this mornin’!!!” Bagger Vance would be proud. Whether or not Ellis’ portrayal of Sweat’s cadence and mannerisms is accurate (and for all I know it may well be) the character is too thinly drawn to register as anything more than an amiable simple-minded servant.
Animal lovers will be happy to know that the horses in Secretariat come off looking far better than their human counterparts and not just because they’re alloted the best dialogue. In the training and racing sequences Wallace effectively conveys the strength and majesty of the fearsome animals drawing us into the action and creating a strong element of suspense even though the final result is a fait accompli. It's too bad the rest of the film never makes it out of the gate.
Apparently, America's favorite pastime is also Walt Disney Studio's new business model. Not two months after the studio picked up an untitled baseball pitch (no pun intended) with Bradley Cooper attached, it has now acquired a long-in-development sports project titled Million Dollar Arm, says THR.
Based on an Indian reality TV series, the project would focus on two young men from India, one a cricket player, the other a javelin thrower, who are plucked from their rural Hindi villages by a sports agent and join the minor leagues of American baseball. Through American pop-culture they learn how to make it in the sports world and in the United States. Columbia Pictures had been developing Million Dollar Arm for some time, but when the deal between producers Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray and Joe Roth and parent company Sony began to dissolve, they brought it to the Mouse House - where all three have strong relationships.
Mitch Glazer, who is in post-production on the drama Passion Play, will pen the screenplay for the picture that is aiming for a similar tone to that of Disney's past sports-themed hits Miracle and The Rookie (both produced by Ciardi and Gray). Roth is valued commodity at the studio, having produced the billion dollar Alice In Wonderland and countless other top projects. He's also working on the Wizard of Oz prequel Oz, The Great and Powerful for Disney.
With successful power-players like Roth, Ciardi and Gray involved I should probably have more confidence in this project, but the fish-out-of-water element of this story is the only thing that Million Dollar Arm has going for it. Based on the plot description, it sounds like it's going to be in the vein of Cool Runnings, another enjoyable Disney hit that was set in the arena of bobsled racing. But part of me thinks feels that this is an act of desperation on Disney's part. They have had no luck this year at the box office outside of time-honored properties and family friendly franchises (Alice and Toy Story 3, respectively). Their star player - Jerry Bruckheimer - has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a pair of "four-quadrant tentpoles" that are top priority for new toppers Rich Ross and Sean Bailey that have barely broke even. The studio is in dire need of something fresh and friendly to audiences and I think that they are just running through the usual motions as they try to produce an easy-to-digest hit. Walt Disney Pictures should take a hint from Warner Bros: grow some balls and take a risk some time - as Inception has proved, it can pay off in so many unexpected ways.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
The three stars were among 25,000 runners who took to the city's streets on Sunday morning (21Mar10) for the 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometre) race, which snaked its way from the Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier.
Transformers star LaBeouf - who ran to raise money for the U.S. Vets in honour of his veteran dad - came in with a time of four hours and 35 minutes, landing him in 5,825th place.
He finished behind Ramsay, who gained a time of three hours and 36 minutes, and ahead of Astin, who finished in five hours and 16 minutes.
The trio will be among the celebrities taking part in the run, which has sold out for the first time in its 25-year history.
Twenty-five thousand marathon men and women will gather at Dodgers Stadium for the start on Sunday morning.
Wrestler-turned-film star Dwayne Johnson and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfuss will be among the stars cheering on the runners at checkpoints along the route.
Last year's (09) marathon winner, Kenyan Wesley Korir, is the man to beat again. Reality TV star Andy Baldwin is expected to be the first celebrity to cross the finish line in Santa Monica, California.
The three stars are all tipped to claim leading actor and actress Oscars nominations for the films Blue Valentine and Love & Other Drugs.
Experts at the Los Angeles Times newspaper's The Envelope blog also tips Angelina Jolie, Ben Stiller and Michael Douglas for Oscars gold for their roles in Salt, Greenberg and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Douglas won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Gordon Gekko in the original Wall Street movie.
The film experts also predict troubled moviemaker Roman Polanski will be among the Best Director favourites for his film The Ghost Writer - even though he's fighting extradition from Switzerland to America for sentencing in a 32-year-old sex assault case.
And the early favourites for Best Film, according to the website, are Danny Boyle's new movie 127 Hours, The Kids Are Alright, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn's The Tree of Life, Inception, western remake True Grit, Clint Eastwood's The Hereafter and Johnny Depp's movie adaptation of his late pal Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary.
Green Zone is a story we’ve already heard shot in a manner we’ve already seen and starring Matt Damon in a role he’s already played. Remember those WMDs that were never found in Iraq and later exposed to be the invention of a dubious and poorly-vetted informant? Remember the misguided and hideously botched attempt at establishing democracy after the fall of Saddam and the violent prolonged insurgency that ensued? If you’ve been away from the television for the past hour and somehow managed to forget any of these details Green Zone is here to remind you.
Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller an Army weapons inspector whose frustration over repeatedly coming up empty in his search for Iraqi WMDs leads him on a quest to track down and expose the people responsible for leading him (and us) down that infamously bogus path. Though his hand-to-hand skills are a notch below Jason Bourne’s Miller’s single-mindedness moral certainty and permanent expression of square-jawed defiance — always threatening another “How do you like them apples?” rebuke — in the face of an insidious multi-level government conspiracy are essentially equivalent to those of Damon’s Bourne trilogy soulmate.
And like Bourne his most dangerous adversary isn’t found on the battlefront but rather within the government he once served so proudly. As Miller delves ever deeper into the Case of the Faulty WMD Intelligence Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) the duplicitous arrogant Defense Department bureaucrat in charge of U.S. operations in Iraq summarily relieves him of his post. (Hint: the better dressed a Green Zone character is the more sinister his ambitions.) But Miller remains undeterred and he goes rogue to locate the CIA informant “Magellan ” a formerly high-ranking Iraqi official whose supposed confirmation of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions served as the basis for U.S. invasion.
We know how the story ends. Green Zone’s pervasive overarching sense of deja vu is accentuated by director — and veteran Bourne helmer — Paul Greengrass who employs the trademark hand-held super-shakycam style which was so fresh and inventive in 2004 but now feels stale and predictable. (Admittedly my aversion to Greengrass’ approach was no doubt heightened by a previous night’s viewing of Roman Polanski’s excellent The Ghost Writer a political thriller as subtle and precise and finely tuned as Green Zone is ham-fisted and haphazard — and which also uses the phantom WMD controversy to far greater narrative effect.)
Green Zone culminates in essentially a violent footrace between Miller and the Army Special Forces as they scour a heavily-armed insurgent stronghold to find Magellan with Miller hoping to secure his potentially damning testimony before the Army can silence him for good. The climactic sequence for all I could tell was either shot in Damon’s backyard culled from Bourne trilogy deleted scenes or assembled from scattered YouTube clips. This punishingly chaotic often incoherent and ultimately exhausting approach to storytelling isn’t cinema verite; it’s dementia pugilistica.
The supermodel has signed up for an aid-relief mission in April (10), after U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's wife Sarah pulled out of a trip to the Caribbean nation for the White Ribbon Alliance charity.
Campbell has already raised funds for Haiti by organising star-studded fashion shows in New York and London - and she wants to see how the cash is being used to help Haitians.
She says, "I want to do a really low-key trip and fly on a regular flight without any aides and any fuss and get on the ground and do some work. I think it's amazing that we have raised so much money and, like Sarah, I think that it's really important that we see where the money is going. I'm passionate about going over to help all those children. My heart goes out to all of them."
John Travolta, Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie are among the stars who have already made trips to Haiti.
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.
Sean Penn has called off his legal separation from his wife of 13 years, Robin Wright Penn -- again.
Penn has reportedly dismissed the papers he filed for “legal separation with minor children” last month.
This is the second time the actor has rescinded divorce papers -- Penn, 48, and Wright Penn, 43, started divorce proceedings in December 2007. The separation officially ended four months later.
The couple wed in 1996 and have two children -- Dylan and Hopper Jack.
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