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Jennifer vs Vince June 9, 2006

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June 07, 2006

There are very few certainties in Hollywood. A fortnight ago, however, at least one thing was for sure: The Break-Up, the latest in a series of Hollywood romantic comedies made by real-life Hollywood couples (others including the Affleck/Lopez abomination Gigli, and the Madonna/Ritchie disaster Swept Away), was going to bomb so hard that there would be a mushroom cloud over Los Angeles.
Many predicted that The Break-Up would be the final humiliation for Jennifer Aniston — the 37-year-old former Friends star (and former Mrs Brad Pitt) — who had the lead female role in the film, opposite her new boyfriend Vince Vaughn.

If The Break-Up failed at the box office, they said, it would be her fourth project in a row to sink — following Derailed, Rumour Has It and Friends with Money. Little reassurance was provided by Hollywood’s early-warning “tracking” system, which measures the public’s awareness of forthcoming films through polling: most respondents seemed indifferent. By last month some pundits began to come out and say it: the Friends star was finished. Never again would she be able to charge the $5 million she was reportedly paid for Along Came Polly in 2004, in which she starred with Ben Stiller.

“With only 12 days to go before opening, that means the game is pretty much over,” sniffed Jeffrey Wells, on his widely read blog Hollywood Elsewhere. “Aniston is probably one or two steps away from competing with Helen Hunt for HBO roles.”

Then something extraordinary happened.

When The Break-Up opened last weekend, everyone went to see it. In total, the movie took a remarkable $38.2 million at more than 3,000 cinemas across the US, making it the third most lucrative romantic comedy debut – behind only Will Smith’s Hitch ($43.1 million) and 50 First Dates ($39.3 million). It was as if Team Aniston had taken on Germany and won the World Cup. The Break-Up will arrive in British cinemas on July 21.

So what happened? Well, it certainly was not the critics. Roger Ebert, columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times, whose “thumbs-up” recommendation is a meaningful (yet not always reliable) mark of approval, had this to say: “Watching the movie is like being on a double-date from hell . . . dreary and sad.” As for A. O. Scott in the The New York Times, he described the film as “dull and trivial . . . . mediocre”.

All of which suggests one of two things: that the critics were needlessly harsh, or that audiences were so caught up in Aniston’s public life (in a post-Pitt interview with Vanity Fair, she had to keep taking sob-breaks) that they felt compelled to see the film. The latter explanation seems obvious, but has been disproved by other tabloid-fuelled movies that nosedived: Gigli made less than $4 million during its opening weekend in 2003, at the height of “Bennifer” mania.

The film’s success also confirms the old Hollywood approach to micromanaging “office romances”. For The Break-Up, a deftly orchestrated campaign (in stark contrast to Pitt’s pan-African honeymoon) culminated in a recent Aniston and Vaughn cover in Entertainment Weekly, boasting the first studio pictures of the couple happily posing together.

Having seen The Break-Up for myself — at a late morning screening with two others in the cinema, both of whom guffawed throughout — I suspect that many critics simply enjoyed opening fire on a slow-moving target. And yet it is still a disappointment.

I can understand how the The Break-Up sounded good when pitched to Universal Pictures as a counter-intuitive romantic comedy — all wit and no heart. It’s the kind of thing Katharine Hepburn would once have loved. Unfortunately for all of us, Aniston is no Hepburn. And The Break-Up no Philadelphia Story.

Vaughn plays Gary, a quick-minded but stubborn Chicago tour bus operator who woos the unbearably cuddly/sexy Brooke (Aniston) at a sports game. They fall in love, buy an apartment together, and then . . . well, they start to bicker. What follows is neither comedy nor drama, nor, to be honest, entertainment.

Vaughn has none of his usual warmth — and without it Gary’s moan about not havinga pool table in the dining room comes off as depressing, not funny. Brooke is initially more sympathetic — their big tiff comes after Gary refuses to prepare the table for a dinner party, or help wash up afterwards — but her refusal to ditch him completely becomes implausible, especially when she turns down a dinner date with a wealthy and dapper art collector.

I suspect that the writers of The Break-Up had The Office in mind when developing some of the more toe-curling scenes. Someone got nervous, however, and tried to tick the boxes next to at least a few of the conventions of the romantic comedy genre. This means that we get a predictably wacky ensemble of extras, including a gay a-cappella singing brother (his dinner-table rendition of the 1980s rock radio hit Owner of a Lonely Heart should be a highlight, but isn’t) and an art gallery owner who, in an unforgivable Hollywood cliché, is inspired by the Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

The best of the bunch (still a cliché, mind you) is a shameless estate agent who offers to sell Brooke and Gary’s apartment.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

The Holy Grail of summer blockbusters June 9, 2006

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May 28, 2006

Famed symbologist Professor Robert Langdon is called to the Louvre museum one night where a curator has been murdered, leaving behind a mysterious trail of symbols and clues. With his own survival at stake, Langdon, aided by the police cryptologist Sophie Neveu, unveils a series of stunning secrets hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, all leading to a covert society dedicated to guarding an ancient secret that has remained hidden for 2000 years. The pair set off on a thrilling quest through Paris, London and Scotland, collecting clues as they desperately attempt to crack the code and reveal secrets that will shake the very foundations of mankind.
RON Howard’s splendid “The Da Vinci Code” is the Holy Grail of summer blockbusters: a crackling, fast-moving thriller that’s every bit as brainy and irresistible as Dan Brown’s controversial bestseller. After being kept under close wraps by Sony, the hotly anticipated film was finally screened for critics yesterday before its premiere tonight at the Cannes Film Festival and its worldwide opening on Friday.

It’s the best thing that either Howard and Tom Hanks – perfectly cast as Brown’s hero, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon – have done since their last collaboration, “Apollo 13,” a decade ago.

While most summer movies ask to check your brains at the popcorn counter, “The Da Vinci Code,” which opens with a bizarre murder in the Louvre, requires you to follow an increasingly elaborate series of puzzles and double meanings.

They all lead to a centuries-old conspiracy that one character labels “the biggest cover-up in human history.”

Even those who haven’t read the book know that conspiracy involves Opus Dei, a real-life prelature of the Roman Catholic Church, which has condemned the novel as libelous and blasphemous.

While the movie doesn’t seriously deviate from Brown’s premise, sometimes that premise is held at arm’s length: “We’ve been dragged into a world of people who think this stuff is real,” as Langdon puts it.

While we’re not going to reveal major spoilers, the few people who haven’t read the book might want to stop reading now if they want to derive the fullest enjoyment from seeing “The Da Vinci Code.”

After being fatally wounded by a flagellation-loving albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany), the man in the Louvre has stripped himself naked and elaborately arranged himself as a replica of a famous sketch by Da Vinci.

The victim, the chief curator, failed to keep a date with Langdon, so our hero is summoned to the museum by a French police captain (Jean Reno) who suspects him of the crime. But Langdon is whisked away in a clever chase sequence by cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou), the dead man’s granddaugher.

She works with Langdon to decipher other clues left by the old man, including the phrase “So Dark the Con of Man” and a code device in a bank vault.

Pursued by the police and Silas, the fugitives enlist the help of the enigmatic Sir Leigh Teabling (the splendid Ian McKellen), a former mentor of Langdon’s.

Teabling relates a fantastic plot (rendered in lavish flashbacks and backed up by clues in The Last Suppper) to cover up the explosive historic truth about Jesus Christ – and Mary Magdalene.

The exciting pursuit of nothing less than the Holy Grail – whatever that may be – takes Langdon and Sophie across France, England and Scotland.

Howard keeps the narrative taut, and Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay is a model adaptation that hews closely to the essentials of Brown’s already cinematic novel without being slavish.

And this lavish production almost entirely avoids the schmaltz that Howard and Goldsman ladled over their previous collaborations, “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man.”

At the movie’s heart is Hanks, who is sympathetic, funny and immensely watchable as the rumpled Langdon.

He’s well matched by Tatou, who in a difficult role shows the most screen presence since her breakthrough performance in “Amelie.”

“The only thing that matters is what you believe,” Langdon tells Sophie at one point.

It’s also the creed of “The Da Vinci Code,” which is far more interested in being a rare summer movie that you won’t forget an hour after leaving the theater than questioning the basis of anybody’s religious faith.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

A legend of cinema June 9, 2006

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May 20, 2006

Christopher Lambert, aka Christophe or Chris Lambert, has proven to be a great actor, with films like “Nirvana”, “Greystoke”, “The Piano Player” and of course, “Highlander”. Today I had the opportunity to interview this legend of cinema.

1- Has the business side of “acting” tarnished the craft over the years? Is it still fun for you?

Acting is still, of course, what I love to do most. The beauty of it is that by changing characters, it never gets boring.

2- Congratulations on “Metamorphosis”, a very solid film. You have a story credit on that one. What inspired you to write such a twisted tale?

Thank you. The story credit was actually given to me because I came up with the idea but I didn’t write the script. That was done by Tibor Fonyódi and Jenö Hodi. Jenö Hodi also directed this movie, and I have to say he is really good, as a director and as a writer.

3- The original “Mortal Kombat” was a total success. Mortal Kombat 3 is coming out soon. What can fans expect with this new entry?

Well, it was about time. When “Mortal Kombat: Annihilaton” was released, I was working on “Nirvana” so I was replaced by James Remar. The title of this movie is “Mortal Kombat: Devastation”, which was supposed to be released in early 2006, but the filming was delayed due to hurricane Katrina. The script is actually pretty good, but it’s going to be re-written after the last game is released. In this movie I play Lord Rayden, god of thunder, just like I did in “Mortal Kombat”, I’m not going to be fighting in this movie (laughs). This movie is being developed by Universal Studios and will be released in early 2007, but we still have a long way to go.

4- Throughout your career, what would you say was your biggest disappointment?

Nothing was really disappointing. When something is passed over, you can’t do anything about it, so you might as well look at it in a positive way.

5- Of all the parts you have played, which one do you hold closer to your heart?

“Greystoke” because it was my first big movie but I’ve also got lots of feelings for “Highlander”, “The Point Men”, “Mortal Kombat”, “Nirvana” and “The Piano Player”.

6- I checked out your site, liked it a lot…very friendly. What was the main reason you decided to hop on board the Internet train?

If it’s done with pleasure and a fun attitude, it’s a great way to communicate with your fans. I’m glad you like the site.

7- What can we expect from Christopher Lambert in the near future?

Well, as an actor, you will be able to see me soon in “Le Lievre de Vatanen”, which will be released in a few months. You will also see me next year in “Mortal Kombat 3”. I was asked to act in “Bord Cadre”, but that’s not for sure since I’m very busy to accept any more roles right now.

08- You’re a very busy man, what do you do to relax?

I work.

09- Any advice for the struggling actor out there?

The most important thing is to be passionate and ready to accept the pains that sometimes go along with the business, that is the key to enjoy what you do.

10- What are some of your favorite scary movies?

“The Shining”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Evil Dead” and “Halloween”.

They’re can be only one…Christopher Lambert. Thanks a bundle, dude and come back anytime. Not only is the man a wonderful actor but he’s also a true gentleman with an obvious affection for his fans. All you Lambert fans should check out his site at: http://www.christopherlambert.com

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

June 9, 2006

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