Thursday, January 31, 2008

Movie Review: "The Hoax"

Starring Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Julie Delpy and Stanley Tucci
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

Official Web site

The old adage that sometimes life is stranger than fiction could certainly apply to the author Clifford Irving, who perpetrated the biggest scam in book publishing history in the early 1970s when he claimed to have written the autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.

Details of the dangerously bold decision by Irving are portrayed in “The Hoax,” an entertaining, yet uneven look into how so many seemingly intelligent people were fooled for so long. Portrayed by Richard Gere, in one of his best performances, Irving is an author on the cusp of a big contract with publishing giant McGraw-Hill. But when his book deal falls apart, Irving is left with some big debts to pay and is seemingly desperate for answers to his problem.

Seeing a magazine story about Hughes provides him with the inspiration for his next book. Of course, the primary problem with his book was that Hughes was a recluse by this point in his life, rarely talking with anyone, even his closest advisors. Irving decides to use this information to his advantage in writing his book. While he wouldn’t actually have access to Hughes, he also gambled that the billionaire wouldn’t likely want to break his silence to refute the book.

With the assistance of his friend and researcher Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina, in a lively performance), Irving sets out to assemble the book, claiming to McGraw-Hill and Life magazine that he has direct access to Hughes. He proves to be a rather affable and adept con man in this process, coming up with convincing handwriting samples and wild demands that the publishers felt compelled to believe. After all, Hughes had long been considered extremely eccentric, so the information Irving was feeding them was hard to dispute.

The script by William Wheeler, an adaptation of Irving’s book on the subject, is perceptive and features a number of great showdowns between Irving and various skeptics in the publishing company. In several instances, Irving looks to be backed into an inescapable corner, only to somehow emerge unscathed. The public’s desire to want to know more about Hughes likely fueled the desire to believe anything that was being dropped in front of them.

While Gere is very good as Irving, some elements of his life are skimmed over, such as his strained relationship with his wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden). Plus, the pacing by director Lasse Hallstrom is somewhat sluggish, as it spends too much time getting to the publishers’ attempts to poke holes in his story. Then, the movie chooses to gloss over the end result of the scam once it starts to unravel.

Despite its occasional missteps, “The Hoax” still manages to fascinate, presenting a man who realized that some people, when given a tantalizing and mysterious subject such as Howard Hughes, are willing to believe almost anything. But, as with all crimes, Irving also learned the importance of not getting caught.

Grade: B
(Rated R for language.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Strike up the Academy Awards

Coming on the heels of a truly forgettable and completely star-free Golden Globes awards show (make that “press conference”), comes the announcement of the Academy Awards on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The top nominees certainly fall towards darker material, as “There Will Be Blood” and “No Country For Old Men” each garnered eight nominations. Just behind them comes the thriller “MIchael Clayton” and period drama “Atonement,” with both grabbing seven nominations. With so many films getting a fairly equal number of nominations, there certainly seem to be some open races, including Best Picture, with most various critics awards seeming to split on the top film of the year.

Of course, the bigger news that overshadows the nominations themselves is the ongoing writers strike that has crippled Hollywood for more than two months. Producers of the Oscar telecast maintain their determination to go on with the show Feb. 24, with or without writers. That could force nominees to make a choice whether or not to cross the picket line come Oscar night, if the strike continues.
Visit here for a complete list of the nominees.

The following is a roundup of some of the major categories and an early look at the prospects for some of the nominees.

Best Picture
“Michael Clayton”
“No Country For Old Men”
“There Will Be Blood”

Hooray for the funny and quirky “Juno” grabbing a nod here, much like the similarly clever movie “Little Miss Sunshine” did last year. Still, it’s in some pretty heady company here, with no clear front-runner at this time.

Best Director
Julian Schnabel, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Jason Reitman, “Juno”
Tony Gilroy, “Michael Clayton”
Joel and Ethan Coen, “No Country For Old Men”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “There Will Be Blood”

Five of the six names in this category received their first nomination, with only Joel Coen having previously received one. He shares directing credit with his brother Ethan this time out, with the Coens actually earning three nominations this time out (writing and editing, with the latter nomination under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes). This one is another wide open race, it would seem.

Best Actor
George Clooney, “Michael Clayton”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood”
Johnny Depp, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Tommy Lee Jones, “In the Valley of Elah”
Viggo Mortensen, “Eastern Promises”

This category is packed with some truly great acting talent with three previous winners (Clooney, Day-Lewis and Jones) and another regular nominee (Depp). All the performances have been raved about by critics, but Day-Lewis has been winning most of the awards up to now, which would seem to make him the man to beat.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Julie Christie, “Away From Her”
Marion Cotillard, “La Vie En Rose”
Laura Linney, “The Savages”
Ellen Page, “Juno”

Although the newcomer Page could be a darkhorse in this race, most critic awards have been split between Christie and Cotillard, with each picking up Golden Globes.

Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”
Javier Bardem, “No Country For Old Men”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Charlie Wilson’s War”
Hal Holbrook, “Into the Wild”
Tom Wilkinson, “Michael Clayton”

Bardem has been the one getting the most notice for his chilling portrayal of a cold-blooded killer in “No Country,” but Wilkinson may prove to be strong competition as a powerful lawyer overcome with a crisis of conscience in “Michael Clayton.”

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, “I’m Not There”
Ruby Dee, “American Gangster”
Saoirse Ronan, “Atonement”
Amy Ryan, “Gone Baby Gone”
Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton”

Wow, does the Academy love Cate Blanchett, or what? The Oscar-winner picked up a pair of acting nominations this year on top of the one she got last year and the win she had two years prior. She’s the odds-on favorite here, and unlike the other nominees, she had to play a man (none other than musician Bob Dylan) for her role.

Best Original Screenplay
“Lars and the Real Girl”
“Michael Clayton”
“The Savages”

Unlike the adapted screenplay, there’s quite a bit lighter material nominated here, save for “Michael Clayton” and to a lesser degree, “The Savages.” This might be the category that “Juno” has the best shot at winning.

Best Adapted Screenplay
”Away From Her”
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
“No Country For Old Men”
“There Will Be Blood”

There’s lots of good material to choose from here, with a rather unclear picture of the eventual winner. This category will likely ruin many Oscar betting pools, for those so inclined to gamble on such things.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Winter 2008 Movie Preview (Part 2)

New movie releases for February take a slant towards comedy and, to no one’s surprise, romance. After all, Valentine’s Day falls smack dab in the middle of the month, and Hollywood is nothing if not opportunistic. Modest hits could emerge from this month’s roster, with Will Ferrell’s latest, set to arrive on Leap Day, poised to be another box office smash.
Below is a look at some of the month’s highlights, with release dates subject to change.

“The Eye”

Starring Jessica Alba, Alessandro Nivola, Parker Posey, Rade Serbedzua
Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud

Just like last month, February also leads off with another Japanese horror movie remake. This time out, it’s Alba playing the supposed damsel in distress. In it, she receives an eye transplant and starts seeing some creepy visions. (Feb. 1)
Official Web site

“Fool’s Gold”
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland, Ewen Bremmer and Ray Winstone
Directed by Andy Tennant

McConaughey and Hudson (“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”) reunite for a romantic comedy about an estranged couple finding some common ground during the search for hidden treasure. (Feb. 8)
Official Web site

Starring Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson, Tom Hulce
Directed by Doug Liman

Christensen stars as a young man who learns he has the ability to
teleport anywhere. This leads him to discover others like him, some of
whom have more evil desires. A good cast and director looks to lift
what most would probably see as B-grade material. (Feb. 14)
Official Web site

“The Spiderwick Chronicles”
Starring Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright and David Strathairn
Directed by Mark Waters

Another series of children’s books makes its debut on the big screen, with Highmore playing dual roles as twin brothers dealing with strange occurrences at his family’s new home. This film is delayed from a 2007 release, but Paramount Pictures seems to have high hopes for it. (Feb. 15)
Official Web site

“Definitely, Maybe”
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz
Directed by Adam Brooks

Here comes the prerequisite romantic comedy coming out right around Valentine’s Day, with Reynolds starring as a man explaining his past relationship history with his daughter (Breslin), one of which includes his soon-to-be ex-wife. Kind of a sappy premise, but the cast at least looks good. (Feb. 15)
Official Web site

“Vantage Point”
Starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt
Directed by Pete Travis

An assassination attempt against the President of the United States
(Hurt) is depicted from multiple viewpoints in this action-thriller
which features a strong cast and a first-time director. (Feb. 22)
Official Web site

Starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Will Arnett, David Koechner
Directed by Kent Alterman

Ferrell is back in sports comedy mode, taking on basketball this time
as a owner/coach/player on a struggling hoops franchise. A solid
comedic track record combined with not-so-tough box office competition
should lead to some good results for Ferrell and Co. (Feb. 29)
Official Web site

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Winter 2008 Movie Preview (Part 1)

With the strike by the Writers Guild of America now stretching into weeks, the television options for seeing new episodes are getting noticeably thin.
Such a problem isn’t really striking the movie industry yet, as most films that are hitting theaters completed production months ago. So for audiences seeking to avoid the arriving onslaught of repeats on TV, movie theaters should have plenty of options in the coming months.
Keep in mind, the selections for the next couple of months in theaters will be a decidedly mixed lot, as Oscar material has largely been burned through. But hopefully, there will be a few gems in the rough.
The following is a look at January’s releases, with February to follow soon.

“One Missed Call”

Starring Edward Burns, Shannyn Sossamon, Azura Skye, Ana Claudia Talancon, Ray Wise
Directed by Eric Valette

Another remake of a Japanese horror film has arrived, with this one focusing on mysterious deaths that start occurring after people receive disturbing voice mails on their phone. How many more from this genre can possibly be left to bring to America? (Jan. 4)
Official Web site

“27 Dresses”
Starring Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman, Judy Greer and Edward Burns
Directed by Anne Fletcher

In this comedy, Heigl plays a 27-time bridesmaid (who would have that many close friends?) who has feelings for her sister’s husband-to-be. After a successful starring role in last summer’s “Knocked Up,” Heigl looks to strengthen her popularity on the big screen. (Jan. 11)
Official Web site

Starring Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas
Directed by Matt Reeves

The teaser trailer for this film, produced by J.J. Abrams (“Lost,”
“Alias”) debuted last summer to heavy buzz. The film’s story has
largely remained under wraps, but involves an invasion of New York by
monsters, or something of that nature. Could be a sleeper hit. (Jan. 18)
Official Web site

“Mad Money”
Starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, Ted Danson, Stephen Root, Christopher McDonald, Adam Rothenberg, Roger Cross
Directed by Callie Khouri

Money that is set to be destroyed by the Federal Reserve is targeted
for theft by a trio of janitors (Keaton, Latifah and Holmes) who work
at the facility. If these three can pull off that kind of heist, I’m
guessing Federal Reserve employees aren’t being painted as too
intelligent. (Jan. 18)
Official Web site

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Having achieved some success with his last chapter of the “Rocky” series, Stallone is back looking for a fitting coda (at least I’d hope it’s the end) to his “Rambo” series. Then again, who was asking for this one? (Jan. 25)
Official Web site

Starring Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross, Mary Beth Hurt
Directed by Gregory Hoblit

Lane plays a cop trying to track down a serial killer who posts his crimes over the Internet in this thriller from the director of “Fracture.” The cops chasing a serial killer is a frequent plot of thrillers, but Lane starring gives some hope that this one won’t be so cliché. (Jan. 25)
Official Web site