WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Disney takes another whack at “Witch Mountain” having found success more than three decades ago with Escape to Witch Mountain and its sequel. Now the story has been contemporized and Bourne-ified to create what is essentially a nonstop breathless race across long winding roads and two worlds competing for superiority. As in the original two children with extraordinary powers seek to save Earth and their own planet from evil forces. They waste no time jumping into a hapless Las Vegas taxi driver’s cab ordering him to put the pedal to the metal. It soon becomes clear the secret to their quest lies somewhere in Witch Mountain a place where top-secret government activity has been going on for years. With their own alien military leaders in favor of a violent takeover and the U.S. leaders ready for confrontation these two teens Sara and Seth plus their cabbie Jack Bruno race against time to find a better solution for both of their worlds.
WHO’S IN IT?
Fast becoming Disney’s go-to guy Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as The Rock) follows up his hit football comedy The Game Plan with another family-oriented tale in which he again gets upstaged by kids. His Jack Bruno proves the perfect foil this time as he gets to be funny cynical commanding and heroic all in the course of about 97 minutes. As events careen out of his control Johnson grows increasingly exasperated and that’s part of the fun. As Sara a smart extraterrestrial teen Anna-Sophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) is ideally cast bringing a nice believability to the role without falling into stereotypes. Seth is well played but with one-note earnestness by Alexander Ludwig who still comes off a little too robotic at times. As an astrophysicist who gets caught up in the trio’s predicament Carla Gugino is a delight. Lead among the antagonists is Irish actor Ciaran Hinds who is properly mean and heartless when it comes to aliens of any stripe. Director Garry Marshall has an amusing cameo as a self-styled UFO expert and there are brief but welcome appearances by the all-grown-up Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann who played the ‘70s incarnation of the alien kids in the earlier films. Richards’ face-to-face meeting with Robb is especially sweet.
The filmmakers wisely keep the retro tone of the book and earlier films while using state-of-the-art visual effects and movie magic. A lot of sci-fi movies have come along since Escape to Witch Mountain premiered in 1975 – see Star Wars Close Encounters and E.T. And while Witch Mountain circa 2009 won’t do anything to make us forget those classics it’s good fun -- like welcoming back an old friend.
There’s no complexity in sight and the story isn’t given a lot of time to breathe. We barely get to know Jack Bruno before the kids have hijacked his cab and the whirlwind begins. A little more exposition and plot development would have been welcomed for those with an attention span beyond two minutes.
There are lots of first-rate action set pieces including a collision with a train and a chase through a Vegas casino but the climactic spaceship battle can’t be topped. Kids are going to eat this sequence up.
After showing Jack her alien prowess for the first time by making various items in his cab float in mid-air Sara says “you humans don’t move objects because you don’t develop your full brain capacity”. Bruno replies “No I don’t do it because it’s kind of creepy.”
Top Story: Douglas Feted at Golden Globes
The 61st annual Golden Globes has chosen Michael Douglas as this year's Cecil B. DeMille Award recipient for career achievement, The Associated Press reports. Douglas follows in the footsteps of his father, Kirk Douglas, who won the same honor in 1968. Previous recipients include Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino and Sophia Loren. Douglas will receive the award during NBC's live telecast Jan. 25 in Los Angeles. AP reports the Hollywood Foreign Press Association also announced that Kevin Costner's 17-year-old daughter, Lily Costner, will escort winners offstage at this year's ceremony as Miss Golden Globe.
Hilton "Embarrassed" By Tape
Paris Hilton admitted to AP she never thought a sex video she made with her ex-boyfriend would ever become public. "I feel embarrassed and humiliated, especially because my parents and the people who love me have been hurt," the socialite and reality TV actress said Monday in a statement to AP. "I was in an intimate relationship and never, ever thought that these things would become public." The ex-boyfriend, Rick Solomon, recently filed a $10 million slander lawsuit against Hilton, her family and her publicist, claiming they have sought to portray him as a criminal.
Spears Hits Hollywood Walk of Fame
Pop princess Britney Spears got her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Monday, on the eve of her first album release in two years, Reuters reports. "I'm seriously speechless right now. This is something I've dreamed about since I was a little girl. ... Thank you so much for even coming out today and sharing this memory with me that I'll never forget," the giddy singer told her cheering onlookers at the ceremony. Her album In the Zone was released Tuesday.
Minnelli Files Suit Against Husband
Liza Minnelli has filed a lawsuit against her estranged husband, David Gest, claiming he stole at least $2 million from her. AP reports Minnelli's lawsuit, filed in Manhattan court, says she and her representatives question Gest's expense deductions from money she earned in performances that he produced, or in which he acted as her agent. This follows Gest's own scathing $10 million lawsuit filed in October in which he claims Minnelli physically abused him. Needless to say, the two, who married in March 2002, have also both filed for divorce.
Anderson Launches Clothing Line
Jumping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, Pamela Anderson is set to launch her own clothing line. AP reports "The Pamela Collection" will include jeans, T-shirts, sweaters, jewelry, lingerie and fragrance when it reaches stores in fall 2004. "I want to make sure it's affordable and available," Anderson said, who will have creative control and will be involved as a co-designer. "I can't wait for it to come out so I can get the clothes for myself and my friends. It's been a lot of work," the Baywatch star added.
Mickey Mouse Turns 75
Happy Birthday, Mickey! The Disney icon arrived on the scene 75 years ago today when he made his screen debut in the animated short Steamboat Willie on Nov. 18, 1928, as an irreverent rodent who takes Captain Pete's steamboat on a joyride and woos Minnie Mouse (who is turning 75 as well).
Music Industry To Get Worse Before Better
According to a study done by the London-based research firm Informa Media Group, the music industry has at least two more years before they'll see any sales recovery, Reuters reports. Informa's study showed the retail value of global music sales will drop to $28.2 billion this year from $30.9 billion in 2002 and to $28 billion in 2004 before returning to growth in 2005 as new Internet music services take off. "The music industry is in a bad way at the moment but the continued fall in the value of music sales is certainly not irreversible. The success of the new download services proves there is a viable market for legitimate digital sales," Simon Dyson, an Informa analyst, told Reuters.
Reagans Gets Airdate
In an unexpected move, Showtime announced they will air The Reagans, the controversial TV-movie CBS nixed a few weeks ago, on Nov. 30, AP reports. Originally, Showtime said they would wait until next year to air the movie, which follows Ronald and Nancy Reagan's rise to power and caused an uproar from some who claimed it contained inaccuracies that projected the former president in a bad light. "We just thought it didn't make sense to prolong this and bring it on next year," Robert Greenblatt, Showtime Entertainment president, told AP. "I'm just tired of people making judgments on this when they haven't seen it. Let them see it."
Role Call: Smothers Brothers Reunite
Tom and Dick Smothers, the successful sibling team behind the wacky '70s variety show Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, have agreed to play themselves in a two-hour telepic for Paul Reiser's production company, Nuance Prods. Variety reports the hybrid biopic/mockumentary will explore how the two got their start, their rise to stardom and their controversial variety show, which CBS yanked due to disagreements over content. Smothers Brothers alum David Steinberg will direct.
Sophia Loren's portrayal of not only herself during adulthood but also her mother makes this television biopic quite unusual, since no other major star (with the exception of Audie Murphy) ever has played herself in a dramatization of her own life story. This film covers her life from childhood through international stardom, her marriage to Carlo Ponti following a romantic fling with Cary Grant, and the birth of her first child, and is tied together with actual clips from some of her movies. It also marks the final acting appearance of John Gavin (as Grant) before his appointment by Ronald Reagan as Ambassador to Mexico. Ironically, Theresa Saldana (as Loren's sister, Maria) later nearly lost her life in a mugging/slashing and, during the 1984-85 TV season, she was preparing to play herself in her own television biography.