It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
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.
Top Story: Mum's the Word on Nicole and Lenny's Romance
Nicole Kidman plans on keeping her romance with rocker Lenny Kravitz private. In an interview appearing in W magazine's December issue, The Associated Press reports the Oscar-winning actress says she learned a few things from her very public marriage to actor Tom Cruise. "I don't think I will ever put myself up for scrutiny, in terms of a personal relationship, ever again," she says. "It's too delicate, too ephemeral, too painful when it fails. So to have it on display terrifies me." Although she admits to being depressed after her divorce from Cruise in August 2001, Kidman seems to have found love again with Kravitz. "The idea of being able to give somebody something again, that's a nice thing," she said. "Being able to give a part of yourself again is a nice thing."
Rosie Mag Admits Losses
In the breach of contract suit between Rosie O'Donnell and Gruner + Jahr USA, the publisher of her now-defunct magazine Rosie, G+J chief financial officer Lawrence Diamond admitted Monday that his company reported false circulation figures to hide the magazine's losses, AP reports. Diamond said fudging the numbers enabled the magazine Rosie to keep running. "We did not want to shut down," Diamond testified under questioning by Matthew Fishbein, an O'Donnell lawyer. If the magazine lost more than $4.2 million in a fiscal year, O'Donnell would have been permitted to end her arrangement with G+J, AP reports.
Morrison Sued for Concert Cancellation
Veteran rocker Van Morrison was ordered by a British court to pay damages to a western England hotel for canceling a concert there last August, Reuters reports. The court heard testimony that Crown Hotel owner Gary Marlow had turned down "substantial offers" by Morrison to settle the case out of court but to no avail.
New Line Sets Up Rings Essay Contest
New Line Cinema will be generating a Lord of the Rings creative writing contest to a select group of high schools and middle schools in Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York in anticipation of the Dec. 17 release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The contest asks children to write a 200-word essay on the theme of the wizard Gandalf's quote: "All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you." The deadline for submitting an essay is Friday, with New Line selecting one winner out of each group in December. Four grand-prize winners will receive promotional items from the film, along with a private screening for the student's friends and family, and the prizes for all schools that participate include a $10,000 grant per city applied to the purchase of new books for the school library, as well as a complete set of The Lord of the Rings book series donated by publisher Houghton Mifflin.
Danza Tries Hand at Daytime TV
Who's the Boss? star Tony Danza and Buena Vista Television are developing a new talk show for Danza to host that is aimed at female audiences, Reuters reports. The program does not yet have an airdate or a title, but according to Reuters, Buena Vista said it would sell the show in the syndication market.
Singer Donates Serious Cash to University
Singer Ray Charles has donated $1 million to Dillard University in New Orleans, La., so the school can create a black culture program, AP reports. The donation will create an endowed faculty position and program devoted to the musical, culinary, artistic and linguistic contributions of black Americans, Dillard spokeswoman Maureen Larkins told AP. The 73-year-old singer received an honorary degree in May from Dillard, a private, predominantly black school associated with the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.
Williams Bids Adieu to CNBC
Brian Williams is leaving his anchor position at CNBC in January, Reuters reports, and will take over from Tom Brokaw at NBC Nightly News after the 2004 presidential election. In the down time between jobs, Williams is expected to contribute as a reporter for NBC, as well as fill in for Brokaw when necessary. "We are heading into an incredibly busy news cycle in 2004 with the primary season, the conventions, the Olympics and the elections," NBC News president Neal Shapiro said in a statement. "With the transition at Nightly on the horizon, it's more important than ever that Brian is able to turn his full attention to the network for the coverage of these stories."
Spike TV To Host Video Game Awards
Spike TV will play host to the inaugural Video Game Awards show in Las Vegas next month, hosted by actor-comedian David Spade, AP reports. "The VGAs celebrate those games that have blistered our fingers poised on the joystick and kept us up all night," Albie Hecht, president of Spike TV, said in a statement Monday. "We're throwing out all the boring and stagnant elements of traditional awards shows and focusing on what matters--the characters, game play, animation, music and performances that have made an impact on the video game community throughout the past year." The show will premiere on the "first network for men" on Dec. 4. Gaming industry experts, public opinion via Spike TV's Web site and the network's editorial board will determine the winners, AP reports.
As expected, Variety reports Rosie O'Donnell has countersued the magazine publisher Gruner+Jahr in response to a suit the publishers filed Tuesday, alleging O'Donnell's "unilateral and wholly unjustified abandonment" of her magazine, Rosie. They are asking for $100 million in damages. O'Donnell's suit claims it was G+J who breached their contract and forced her to leave the magazine that bears her name and brand. O'Donnell's attorney Mary Jo White told Variety, "When all the facts come out in the course of litigation, we're confident that a court will find that Rosie's decision to terminate the agreement with G+J was justified by G+J's misconduct, and that the court will award her significant monetary relief."
In an effort to boost himself back up to the A-list, Nicolas Cage has dumped his longtime Brillstein-Gray manager Gerry Harrington. Cage's films of late (i.e., Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Windtalkers) have tanked at the box office. "While I appreciate the friendship, support and professional guidance that Gerry has provided me for the past 12 years, I have made the decision to continue without management," Cage told Variety. Smart move, Nic.
Spider-Man's Kirsten Dunst will join Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a new film from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich). Variety reports the film will once again explore the recesses of the brain as a man (Carrey) tries to have a steamy ex-relationship erased completely from his mind. Dunst will play a receptionist who gets caught up in the memory elimination process.
Antonio Banderas will star as Pancho Villa in the HBO Films production And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, focusing on a real-life incident in 1914 when Villa sold the rights to his life story to the movie industry to help raise funds for the 1910-1917 Mexican Revolution. U.S. filmmakers shot actual battles for the silent film The Life of Pancho Villa.
British director Ken Loach is encouraging teenagers to break the law to see his movie. He told London's Daily Telegraph that the "18" rating he received from the British Board of Film Classification for his new film Sweet Sixteen is completely unjustified. The rating bars those under 18 from seeing the film, which uses graphic language in its realistic depiction of a teenager who gets involved in the Glasgow, Scotland, crime and drug culture.
American Idol co-host Brian Dunkleman will not be returning for a second season of the hit reality series. The stand-up comic's reps had been talking to Fox about a deal but Dunkleman's spokeswoman told Variety he has decided to pursue other opportunities. The other co-host, Ryan Seacrest, will be returning for more Idol fun as will judge Simon Cowell.
James Brown may lose his $400,000 home and property on Beech Island off the coast of South Carolina. In a lawsuit won by SouthTrust Bank, the Godfather of Soul has been ordered to repay a $900,000 loan he borrowed to buy a building in Augusta, Ga., in 10 days or the bank will cash in on Brown's assets, including his house. The singer can, however, stop the process if he sells the building for the same amount as the debt.
MTV News reports the 9/11 benefit single "What More Can I Give," which was recorded a year ago by Michael Jackson (with Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and others) is finally getting airplay--even though its not supposed to. New York station WKTU-FM has been playing the song for a week, even though Sony Music Entertainment has never released it. WKTU's programming director refuses to say how the station got the song.
Les Miserables is leaving the Great White Way after a 16-year run. Get the full story at our sister site, www.broadway.com.
Lavished with rich period detail (it's set in 1971 Salford England) and hilarious anecdotes the film revolves around the plans by George (the father) to marry off his sons to good Pakistani girls. The movie opens with his handsome eldest son bolting from the altar to live a secular (and decidedly fashionable) life even though it means being severed from his kin. It all unfolds with great energy that never lets up even at the cathartic hour of reckoning between tribe and elder.
George's irascibility is brilliantly telegraphed in Om Puri's remarkable craggy face (last seen in Hanif Kureishi's "My Son the Fanatic"). Linda Bassett as his
common-sense wife Ella captures the inner struggle between a loving dutiful (and abused) spouse and a mother protective of her children's happiness. The ensemble playing their fractious brood -- six sons and one sassy daughter -- is a joy to watch.
Much of the tale's brisk charm lies in its frenetic intergenerational conflict which Damien O'Donnell brilliantly navigates. O'Donnell milks each scene for every possible grain of comedic friction.