Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Legend Is Gone

Paul Newman, one of the silver screen's legendary actors, who carved out an indelible career that reached far beyond Hollywood, passed away Sept. 26 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 83. The actor, whose career spanned more than 50 years, was also a noted activist, entrepreneur and race car driver.

Easily one of the most respected and charismatic actors of his or any generation, Newman's list of movie credits are substantial and impressive. Consider some of these career highlights by decade: (1950s) – "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"; (1960s) – "The Hustler," "Cool Hand Luke," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"; (1970s) – "The Sting," "Slap Shot"; (1980s) – "The Verdict," "The Color of Money" (1990s) – "Nobody's Fool"; (2000s) – "Road to Perdition," "Cars."

A 10-time Oscar nominee, Newman only won the award once, for 1986's "The Color of Money," when he reprised his role as pool shark Fast Eddie Felson. The role was originated in 1961's "The Hustler." Ironically, he was given an honorary Oscar for his outstanding body of work in 1986 – the same year he took the role in Martin Scorsese's "The Color of Money," starring alongside Tom Cruise, fresh off his star-making role in "Top Gun." He would receive a second honorary Oscar in 1994, recognizing his charitable work.

Aside from his substantial amount of time and effort committed to various charities over the years, Newman also launched Newman's Own in 1982, which consisted of a line of food products covering everything from microwave popcorn to salad dressing. The products have expanded over the years to include salsa, lemonade and more, with many of them lining the shelves at your local grocery store.

His passing is best summed up by his most notable co-star and longtime friend Robert Redford: "There is a point where feelings go beyond words. I have lost a real friend. My life and this country is better for his being in it."

Movie Review: "Baby Mama"

Starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Sigourney Weaver and Steve Martin
Directed by Michael McCullers

Official Web site

Performing together for several years on “Saturday Night Live,” Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have proven to have sharp comedic skills and chemistry that served them well as co-anchors of “Weekend Update” on the long-running comedy show.

Their chemistry on that program would seem to make for a natural and obvious progression to performing together on the big screen. And while “Baby Mama” is far from a comedic masterpiece, it does provide a solid storyline that keeps the two actresses front and center for the entire film. That, in and of itself, is a rarity for big studio comedies.

In the film, Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a successful businesswoman for a large grocery store (think something like Whole Foods) who begins to hear her biological clock ticking very loudly. After some unsuccessful dealings with sperm banks, she turns to a surrogacy firm run by Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver, in a good comic turn).

Kate is matched up with Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler), a generally unmotivated woman saddled with a selfish and constantly scheming husband (Dax Shepard). But for the whopping fee of $100,000, she gladly signs on to become a surrogate. Regarding the ridiculously high fee, Kate comments, “It costs more to have someone born than to have someone killed.” To which Bicknell responds, “It takes longer.”

Most of the movie’s humor stems from the developing friendship between the two seemingly wildly different women. Kate is straight-laced (some would say uptight), while Angie is much more free-spirited (some would say irresponsible). Naturally, the two begin to find they might have more in common than they first thought, as they begin to bond during the course of Angie’s pregnancy.

Adding to the impending baby situation is a developing relationship that Kate strikes with Rob Ackerman, a small business owner in a neighborhood where the grocery store is building a new location. The script by Michael McCullers, who also directed the film, has problems developing the romantic relationship, with Kinnear’s character mostly underdeveloped. With the film placing much of its focus on the Kate/Angie relationship, the budding romance mostly plays as an afterthought.

The surprises in “Baby Mama” are fairly mild, but the laughs do come consistently enough to keep audiences interested. The winning pairing of Poehler and Fey plays a large part in that. However, Steve Martin, in a small role, steals a lot of laughs as Kate’s kind of spacy boss. He’s very big on eye contact, seeing it as a kind of reward to give his fellow employees.

So while the film’s comedic possibilities are never fully realized, “Baby Mama” provides proof that with the right script, Poehler and Fey have got what it takes to become the next great comedic duo.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a drug reference.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fall 2008 Movie Preview (Part 2)

October’s releases usually follow a more Academy Award-friendly path, with some Halloween-themed movies thrown into the mix. The following is a rundown of the month's more notable releases. Release dates are subject to change.

“Flash of Genius”
Starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda
Directed by Marc Abraham

Based on a true story, this film follows Robert Kearns (Kinnear) and his battle against the auto industry over intermittent windshield wipers, a technology he invented and unsuccesfully attempted to sell to the automakers. David vs. Goliath tales are certainly popular in Hollywood, and they don’t get much bigger than this. But, hopefully the film doesn’t get too bogged down in discussions about windshield wipers. (Oct. 3)
Official Web site

“The Express”
Starring Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Clancy Brown and Charles S. Dutton
Directed by Gary Fleder

Another fact-based story hits theaters, this one about Ernie Davis, the first African American to win college football’s Heisman Trophy. Quaid, a veteran of sports movies, plays Davis’ coach. As the college football season will be in full swing when this is released, the timing to be a sleeper hit could be right. (Oct. 10)
Official Web site

“Body of Lies”
Starring Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Strong, Golshifteh Farahani, Oscar Isaac, Simon McBurney
Directed by Ridley Scott

Lots of ads have already been plugging this movie, which is the fourth collaboration for Crowe and director Scott, with the star power of DiCaprio on board this time out. Taking on the timely issue of terrorism, DiCaprio plays an ex-journalist following a hot lead in Jordan, with a determined CIA agent (Crowe) as his handler. (Oct. 10)
Official Web site

“Max Payne”
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Donal Logue, Chris O’Donnell
Directed by John Moore

Based on a video game isn’t always the best recipe for success (I’ll spare unspooling the list of failed attempts here), but the story of a DEA agent (Wahlberg) out to avenge the death of his family looks better than most of the past attempts. That might be faint praise, however. But the game was good, for whatever that’s worth. (Oct. 17)
Official Web site

Starring Josh Brolin, James Cromwell, Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, Scott Glenn, Thandie Newton
Directed by Oliver Stone

Don’t think for a second that the release date of this biopic about the current President of the United States isn’t meant to have any influence on Election Day. Writer-director Stone has said he had every intention of getting the film out before November. Obviously, the film will be polarizing, but can it still be entertaining? The cast certainly holds interest, as they do in most of Stone’s films. (Oct. 17, limited)
Official Web site

“High School Musical 3: Senior Year”
Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu
Directed by Kenny Ortega

The third film in the movie musical franchise (if you can call it that) leaps from its Disney Channel beginnings to the big screen. While it’s uncertain how many of its generally young audience will pay for what they saw for free the past two times, there’s not going to be any similar material competing with it in October. (Oct. 24)
Official Web site

Starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Colm Feore
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Eastwood directing Jolie could be an intriguing collaboration, and early word from its debut earlier this year at the Cannes film festival, is that this is one to watch out for at awards time. Not that big a surprise based on the recent track record of Eastwood. Jolie plays a mom reunited with her missing son in 1920s Los Angeles, who begins to have serious doubts about his identity. (Oct. 24, limited)
No official Web site

“Synecdoche, New York”
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson
Directed by Charlie Kaufman

Having made a solid career of writing unusual, yet highly original screenplays (“Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) Kaufman makes his directorial debut with Oscar-winner Hoffman playing Caden Cotard, a theater director strugging with his work, not to mention the women in his life. And in a true Kaufman-esque touch, Cotard’s also constructing a giant replica of New York in a warehouse, as part of his new play. (Oct. 24, limited)
No official Web site