LONDON: British-Australian actress Naomi Watts is to play Britain's Princess Diana in a movie about the late royal's final two years, filmmakers have announced.
Producers said "Caught in Flight" would focus on a period when Diana, the former wife of heir to the throne Prince Charles, found "true personal happiness" shortly before her death in a 1997 car crash in Paris.
Diana wed Charles in a glittering ceremony in 1981, but the unhappy marriage ended in 1996. Charles wed his long-time companion Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005.
Watts, who won widespread critical acclaim for her role as Betty Elms in the 2001 psychological thriller "Mulholland Drive", said it was an honour to be able to play the "iconic role" of the woman known as the "People's Princess".
"Princess Diana was loved across the world and I look forward to rising to the challenge of playing her on screen," said the 44-year-old, who also won an Oscar nomination for her role as a recovering drug addict in "21 Grams".
The movie about the Princess of Wales, who was just 36 when she died, will be directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, best known for his epic 2004 film "Downfall" about the final days of Hitler. (AFP)
LOS ANGELES: Michael Jackson went regularly to a Beverly Hills dermatologist and sometimes emerged from the sessions talking slowly, witnesses said Wednesday at the star's manslaughter trial.
The pop icon at times went almost every day to the doctor, Arnold Klein, said his head of security and his personal assistant, who testified on the second day of the trial of his personal doctor Conrad Murray.
"There were times when he was going almost every day it fluctuated," said security chief Faheem Muhammad, who also referred to a "cream" that Jackson "wouldn't want the world to know about" removed from the room where he died.
News channel cited lawyers for Murray as claiming that Jackson became addicted to another drug, Demerol, from the visits to Klein, and that this could have prevented the singer from sleeping, even with heavy sedatives.
Jackson died from an overdose of medical anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009, allegedly administered by Murray to help the singer cope with extreme insomnia.
Jackson's personal assistant Michael Amir Williams, who worked for Jackson during the last two years of his life, also said the visits to Klein's office were regular. "At a certain point, it was very regular," he said.
On Tuesday the trial heard a chilling audio clip of an apparently heavily-drugged Jackson slurring almost unintelligibly, in a phone conversation with Murray only weeks before his death.
Williams said Jackson sometimes talked slowly after emerging from his sessions at Klein's office -- although never as slow or unintelligibly as the audio recording played in court.
"He would talk slow like that. I never heard it that extreme, but I can definitely say he has come out, and he's a little slower," he said.
Another witness, Paul Gongaware of concert promoters AEG, said he noticed that Jackson had "a little bit of a slower speech pattern, just a slight slur in the speech" after a visit with Klein.
A spokeswoman for dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Klein said the doctor had no comment on the case, adding that he was not scheduled to be a witness at the trial.
Williams meanwhile said that Murray asked him, in hospital shortly after Jackson died, to take him back to the house to that he could remove "some cream in Michaels room .. that he wouldn't want the world to know about."
Reports over the years have speculated about the gradual lightening of Jackson's skin over the years, and his brother Jermaine recently said that he suffered from vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disorder.
In other testimony, Muhammad said that several days before his death on June 25, 2009, Jackson had asked him to call a nurse after having strange symptoms, in which one of his hands was hot and one foot cold.
The security chief said he could not recall if he had managed to speak to the nurse, but said he understood that Murray was contacted by someone else to see to Jackson about the problem. (AFP)
NEW YORK - At the end of "War Horse," the crowd at a recent curtain call rose to cheer a couple of real thoroughbreds.
Not actors - horses.
Humans are almost beside the point in Lincoln Center's staging of "War Horse," the astonishing World War I epic that opened Thursday at the Vivian Beaumont Theater following an award-winning run in London. The biggest claps here are reserved for a pair of equine puppets.
Based on the best-selling 1982 children's novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford, "War Horse" tells the story of the friendship between an English farm boy and his clever horse Joey set against the Great War.
The puppeteers - three for the big horses, one or two for the others - provide the whinnies, snorts and snuffles of the animal in such an astonishingly lifelike way that their human manipulators - visible in period clothing - melt away.
Created by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, the puppets are really more like exoskeletons with shredded leather for tails and pointy ears and limbs manipulated by levers and buttons inside. For adult horses, two humans are hunched inside the body and one stands alongside its neck offering the main sounds and moving its head.
The audience meets Joey for the first time as a fearful foal and watches his relationship with his young owner, Albert (a hardworking Seth Numrich), deepen. When Britain is sucked into war, Joey is sold to the British cavalry and later captured by Germans on the Western Front. Albert - sent a sketch pad of drawings from the British soldier taking care of Joey - then joins the Army to find his beloved friend, risking his life among the barbed wire and cannon fire in the Somme Valley.
The cast of 35 includes people - British, German, soldier and civilian - and puppeteers who manipulate four horses; some actors pull double duty as both horse and human. The stage at Lincoln Center can barely contain all the action and, indeed, both horses and human characters race up and down the aisles.
The acting - human, that is - is a little over-the-top, but that's to be expected from material inspired by a kids' book. The reason to go see the show is its inventiveness, visual punch and its obvious reverence for the way animals move and behave. Look for a wayward goose to almost steal the show.
Directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have their hands full juggling both beast and Homo sapiens, and they have been aided by a reunion of the production's acclaimed London design team.
A projection screen - cleverly in the shape of a torn piece of the sketch pad - hangs over the stage, showing lovely animated videos by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer. The music by Adrian Sutton and songs by John Tams alternate from battle melodies to moving violin-and-accordion English folk. Paule Constable's lighting - particularly in the battle scenes - is heart-pounding and stunning. And put your hooves together for Toby Sedgwick, who is director of movement and horse choreography.
The show opened in 2007 at the National Theatre of Great Britain and transferred to the West End two years later, where it is still selling out. Steven Spielberg is readying a film adaptation of the story with real horses.
Layered on top of the boy-and-his-horse tale is an exploration of the way warfare changed during the war, as machines began replacing cavalry horses on the battlefield. One the most beautifully realized scenes in "War Horse" shows Joey facing off against a British armored tank. Columns of horses in another scene are cut down my machine gun fire.
Joey and a rival-horse-turned-friend Topthorn make it across the enemy lines and find themselves in German hands, but they manage to charm a horse enthusiast and decent bloke named Fredrich (a fine Peter Hermann), who takes the sting out of a play which portrays German soldiers as mostly bloodthirsty. "I'm afraid magnificence isn't worth a damn, here," Fredrich tells his animals amid the mud and trenches.
There are few dry eyes in the house at the conclusion of this tale and that includes both weeping gray-haired Lincoln Center subscribers and sniffling high school field trippers.
And why not? There's no shame in crying over a love story between a boy and his horse, even if that horse is made up of cane and plywood. Plus, there's another secret ingredient in those puppets: plenty of heart. (AP)
LOS ANGELES: After collecting more than $50 million in its foreign debut, Fox's animated "Rio" lands in North America this weekend and should perch right at the top of the domestic chart with receipts of about $30 million.
This G-rated tale of a domesticated macaw that sets off on an adventure to Rio de Janeiro has a lot going for it, including its obvious appeal to families and kids on spring break, very effective use of 3-D, strong reviews and that impressive following under way overseas.
Horror films typically have a built-in fan base and Weinstein Co.'s successful "Scream" franchise has had a following of devotees ever since the groundbreaking first film hit theaters in December 1996. Combining horror thrills with irreverent humor and an attractive teen cast, the film went on to become the 13th highest grossing film that year. The last installment in 2000 opened in the low $30 million range and "Scream 4" coming over a decade later should scare up a gross in the $25 million to $30 million range.
Universal's "Hop" was the first film released in 2011 to top the chart for two consecutive weekends and has truly benefited from an Easter theme that has endeared it to family audiences to the tune of $70 million thus far. Even with increased family-film competition in the marketplace this weekend, the irresistible appeal of Russell Brand as the son of the Easter bunny will still attract likely business in the $10 million range.
"Hanna" from Focus Features had a solid opening weekend last week, which saw the film jump from third to second place when the final numbers were tallied on Monday. Holding up extremely well and generating solid word-of-mouth, the intense action film features a terrific cast, including Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, and Saoirse Ronan in the title role. "Hanna" will likely see a modest second weekend drop with a gross in the $8 million to $10 million range.
This leaves Warner Bros.' comedy remake "Arthur" and Sony's inspirational true story "Soul Surfer" to battle it out for fifth place, with expected second-weekend grosses in the range of $5 million to $7 million. (AP)
LOS ANGELES: It's still an open question whether in this day of increased concerns about alcoholism and health you can do a remake of 1981's "Arthur," a comedy about a lovable drunk.
The new "Arthur," with Russell Brand playing the Dudley Moore role, is a mere burlesque riffing off the old "Arthur" rather than an actual remake that has reconceived or rethought the original film.
The story hasn't changed much, nor have the characters. But the comedy is now crude instead of whimsical and its characters overblown caricatures instead of screwball personalities. A movie has been reduced to a sketch.
One's enjoyment of "Arthur" -- and its box office chances -- may depend on a new audience having little if any knowledge of the earlier work. As a Russell Brand Show, fans and followers may enjoy his extravagant mugging and nuttiness.
The original film -- let's call it Old "Arthur" -- came out of nowhere. TV veteran Steve Gordon created an ineffable, charming comedy that defied movie traditions even of that time. Comic intoxication was usually reserved for the "Animal House" kind of comedies, and rich guys were seldom heroes. Gordon insisted that his incredibly rich and drunk protagonist was a gentle soul, looking for love but willing to accept a night of fun if that didn't pan out.
Moore, who had just hit it big as a leading man in Blake Edwards' "10," gave "Arthur" a sweetness to go along with his prankster personality. It was a knowing performance, full of wit and grace and savvy observation.
Brand shares a British heritage with Moore, but his comedy is much different. The guy is a talent, no doubt. Only last week, he put an undeniable comic jolt into Universal's animation/live-action mix Hop. But there is edginess to Brand's humor, even an aggressiveness. His Arthur creates scenes, not laughs. He's a pathetic, bratty little boy who refuses to grow up rather than a genial alcoholic who wouldn't harm a fly.
Peter Baynham's new script has done even more damage to the key relationship in Arthur's life. Perhaps the filmmakers thought it was very clever to turn Hobson (John Gielgud), Arthur's fatherly butler, into a nanny, played by Helen Mirren. It certainly does further emphasize Arthur's infantilism. But unlike Gielgud's character, Mirren's Hobson is in constant conflict with her aging charge. She prods sharply where the butler steered with the gentlest of touches. Old "Arthur's" butler was subtle and unflappable, while Mirren's nanny has a bit of Mary Poppins in her.
The story again revolves around a billionaire parent (Geraldine James) demanding Arthur grow up enough to enter into a loveless marriage to a rich WASP (Jennifer Garner), mostly for business purposes, or he'll be disinherited. (Here again the New "Arthur" insists on a gender change from a male to female parent.) At the same time, Arthur meets the love of his life in unlicensed Grand Central Station tour guide Naomi (indie film stalwart Greta Gerwig).
So both "Arthurs" present a thoroughly conventional romantic-comedy about love vs. money with a predicable outcome. This humdrum story line therefore allows, or at least it should, a completely unpredictable and outlandish character to take over.
Neophyte feature director Jason Winer turns things over to Brand all right, but it's a rough, out-of-focus performance. Not helping matters, the movie relies on its props far too much -- from an incongruous Batmobile, borrowed from a fellow Warner Bros. movie, to a magnetic floating bed. These tend of underscore showiness over comedy, brashness over subtlety.
Perhaps encouraged by his props and toys, Brand goes full bore in every scene, almost as if the movie isn't so much about a drunk as an eccentric billionaire, who would be loopy if he drank only lemonade. In fact, no one working on New "Arthur" seems completely comfortable with this protagonist. So you get AA meetings and lines tsk-tsking over "free spending during a recession." The movie keeps throwing up PC signs along the way to demonstrate how shocked everyone is, to borrow from Casablanca, that gambling is taking place in a casino.
Guys, your character was always going to be a profligate drunk if you remake "Arthur," so get over it. And Hobson's admonition to Arthur to scrub his private parts to prevent disease following unprotected sex just blows your mind. This is the advice of his sagacious nanny?
When tragedy overtakes Arthur as Hobson falls fatally ill, the film becomes cloying rather than touching. There's no heart in any of this as the tenacious bond between the man-child and his governess has never been convincingly established.
In Old "Arthur," all supporting players had great moments; in New "Arthur," everyone hits his marks, and that's about it. The spontaneity and gentle whimsy is missing. And so is the luxurious wit of Gordon's original screenplay. Baynham's script prods along without memorable lines or scenes even when it imitates Old "Arthur" as closely as it can.
In the end, it isn't so much that the "New Arthur" isn't the Old "Arthur." Rather it's the anti-Arthur. (Reuters)
LAS VEGAS: Miranda Lambert won four prizes at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday but lost the coveted entertainer of the year honor to Taylor Swift in a major surprise.
Swift, who picked up four nominations, had watched from her seat throughout the ceremony as rivals Lambert and Lady Antebellum went up to the stage. She was stunned when her name was finally called for the final prize, a fan-voted honor.
"This is the first time that I've ever won this and I'm just losing my mind," Swift said, as she fought back tears.
Lambert retained her crown as top female vocalist and her wistful tune "The House That Built Me" was honored for single, song and video of the year at the 46th annual awards ceremony.
The award for single goes to the artist and producer, whereas the trophy for best song is given to the artist and composer.
Lambert, a 27-year-old Texan, went into the ceremony with a leading seven nominations, including two in the video category.
The country trio Lady Antebellum won trophies for album and vocal group of the year and Brad Paisley was named top male vocalist for the fifth consecutive year. The award for top new artist went to The Band Perry, a sibling trio from Mississippi.
Kenny Chesney, with five nominations, and Keith Urban, with three, went home empty-handed.
The announcement of winners took second place to a string of performances divided between two hotel venues, the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay. The winner of the first award was not revealed until almost an hour into the three-hour ceremony.
The show was hosted by Reba McEntire for the 13th year. She was joined by first-timer Blake Shelton, Lambert's fiance.
Winners at the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards from Las Vegas:
• Entertainer of the year: Taylor Swift
• Top male vocalist: Brad Paisley
• Top female vocalist: Miranda Lambert
• Top vocal group: Lady Antebellum
• Top vocal duo: Sugarland
• Top new artist: The Band Perry
• Top new solo vocalist: Eric Church
• Top new vocal duo or group: The Band Perry
• Album of the year: "Need you Now," Lady Antebellum
• Single record of the year: "The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert
• Song of the year: "The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert
• Video of the year: "The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert
• Vocal event of the year: "As She's Walking Away," Zac Brown Band Featuring Alan Jackson
"Hop" has one of the cutest bunnies you'll ever see and plenty of other eye candy among its computer-generated visuals, yet there's not much bounce to the story behind this interspecies buddy comedy.
Letting bad-boy Russell Brand supply the voice of the Easter bunny sounds like a promising way to add spice to a warm and fuzzy family flick. Too bad the movie winds up about as bland as carrot-flavored jelly beans.
Its gooey sentiment and hare-brained gags are likely to appeal only to very young kids. The filmmakers trip up on their scattered attempts to inject some hipness to "Hop" for older children and parents (a bit about a rabbit apparently cooked in a pot is handled so tepidly, it barely registers as a halfhearted allusion to the boiled bunny in "Fatal Attraction," while a couple of Hugh Hefner-Playboy bunny riffs are just dreary).
Directed by Tim Hill, a veteran at blending live action and digital animation on "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties," "Hop" skips and jumps between the fantasy land beneath Easter Island (clever location scouting, huh?) - where rabbits and chicks manufacture holiday candy - and the human world of Fred O'Hare (clever character name, huh?).
Fred (James Marsden) is a grown-up slacker living with his parents, who hound him to get a job and move out. As a boy, Fred caught a forbidden glimpse of the Easter bunny making his rounds, and his destiny seems tied to the rabbit realm.
He's not the only disappointment to his parents. Down under Easter Island, young E.B. (voiced by Brand) is about to take over the family business from his dad, the Easter bunny (Hugh Laurie). But E.B. dreams of becoming a rock 'n' roll drummer and runs away to Hollywood to follow his bunny bliss.
E.B. just happens to come across Fred at a mansion where he's house-sitting. Let's see, mischievous, screwy rabbit, fridge full of carrots, rooms loaded with plush, pricey bedding. Inevitably, E.B. unleashes mayhem on Fred, who seems to be the only person surprised that a talking rabbit is running loose in Hollywood (in a couple of weirdly self-referential but very unfunny scenes, David Hasselhoff is among those who take a talking bunny in stride).
Written by the "Despicable Me" team of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, along with Brian Lynch, "Hop" mostly is a lot of slapstick adventures between E.B. and Fred. They gradually form a kinship, find common ground and go through all the other usual things that arise when man befriends rabbit, including taking on scheming chick Carlos (voiced by Hank Azaria), who wants to turn Easter into a poultry-run holiday.
The vocally dexterous Azaria brings some pep to "Hop," but most of the actors, among them Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins as Fred's parents, are left to doze as if they'd been up all night hiding goodies for the big Easter egg hunt.
After playing stick-in-the-mud mutant Cyclops in the first three "X-Men" movies, Marsden has gotten to show comic charm in such romps as "Enchanted" and "Hairspray." In "Hop," he comes across as a genuinely nice guy - keeping in mind that genuinely nice guys can be genuinely boring. Marsden's Fred is genuinely boring.
That leaves the movie hanging on Brand. His slightly spacy Anglo mutterings lend a strange warmth to E.B., whose adorable face could inspire an entire line of cuddly plush toys.
The animation is the movie's strong point, presenting a rainbow-colored world that should satisfy young children's cinematic sweet tooth. But Carlos' legion of chicks look like downy replicas of the yellow minions of "Despicable Me," while a trio of commando rabbits known as the Pink Berets are really annoying, down to their own dreadful theme song that plays over the end credits.
"Hop," a Universal release, is rated PG for some mild rude humor. Running time: 94 minutes. Two stars out of four. (AP)
NEW YORK: It feels like Lady Gaga has been around for ages, so it’s hard for us to believe that the pop star is only celebrating her 25th birthday today Monday!
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, born March 28, 1986, better known by her stage name Lady Gaga, is an American pop singer-songwriter. After performing in the rock music scene of New York City's Lower East Side in 2003 and later enrolling at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, she soon signed with Streamline Records, an imprint of Interscope Records.
During her early time at Interscope, she worked as a songwriter for fellow label artists and captured the attention of Akon, who recognized her vocal abilities, and signed her to his own label, Kon Live Distribution.
Gaga came to prominence following the release of her debut studio album The Fame (2008), which was a commercial success and achieved international popularity with the singles "Just Dance" and "Poker Face".
Gaga is well-recognized for her outré sense of style in fashion, in performance and in her music videos. Her contributions to the music industry have garnered her numerous achievements including five Grammy Awards, amongst twelve nominations; two Guinness World Records; and the estimated sale of fifteen million albums and fifty-one million singles worldwide.
LOS ANGELES: Film icon Elizabeth Taylor was laid to rest in the same celebrity cemetery as her long-time friend Michael Jackson -- and demonstrated a keen sense of humor to the end.
The legendary actress, who died Wednesday aged 79, was sent off with an hour-long private ceremony at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park on Thursday, where generations of Hollywood stars are buried.
But her last wishes were respected, and announced after the service had finished.
"The service was scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm, but at Miss Taylor's request started late," said a statement by her publicist.
"Miss Taylor had left instructions that it was to begin at least 15 minutes later than publicly scheduled, with the announcement: 'She even wanted to be late for her own funeral,'" it added.
The film legend and violet-eyed beauty, famed as much for her stormy love life as her five-decade Oscar-winning film career, died early Wednesday from congestive heart failure at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai hospital.
Thursday's funeral was reserved for a few dozen family and friends, brought in a fleet of black stretch limos to the verdant cemetery, where stars including Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, and Jean Harlow are also interred.
During their lives, the pop icon and Hollywood legend were at times inseparable, with homes near each other in the plush Bel Air and Beverly Hills neighborhoods west of Hollywood.
"I don't think anyone knew how much we loved each other," Taylor said after his death. "I loved Michael with all my soul and I can't imagine life without him. We had so much in common and we had such loving fun together." (AFP)
MUMBAI: Bollywood star Akshay Kumar will be shooting in Antarctica where no Indian actor has shot before.
Akshay Kumar wants to make his return to action in Housefull 2 remarkable, so the introductory fight scene will be shot in Antarctica, with Akshay bare chested!
"Yes, I'm shooting Akshay's introductory action sequence for Housefull 2 in Antarctica. It's the coldest place in the world. Only documentaries have been shot there. Housefull 2 will be the first feature to be shot in that continent," director Sajid Khan confirmed.
43-year-old Akshay will feature shirtless in the fight scene. Filming the 10-minute scene in Antarctica is Akshay's idea and producer Sajid Nadiadwala and director Khan are game.
Filming will begin in May 2011.
NEW YORK: Hollywood would like to skip spring and head straight to summer.
The summer-style blockbuster "Battle: Los Angles" performed like one at the box office, opening to a strong debut of $36 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. The film stars Aaron Eckhart as a veteran soldier leading a platoon of Marines in combat against invading aliens.
For Columbia Pictures and Sony, the sci-fi action film recalls its 2009 Oscar-nominated hit, "District 9." "Battle: Los Angeles" hasn't received nearly as good reviews, but it benefited from a 68 percent male audience and a very successful marketing campaign.
"It's kind of like having a summer film in the spring," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony. "From the beginning, this was a film we were excited about."
Bruer added that there's "definitely a connection" between "Battle: Los Angeles" and "District 9," which opened to $37.4 million and was also helmed by a South African filmmaker. Neill Blomkamp directed "District 9," while Jonathan Liebesman directed the similarly handheld-heavy "Battle: Los Angeles."
In its second week of release, the animated Western spoof "Rango" came in second, adding $23.1 million for a cumulative total of $68.7 million. The critically acclaimed Paramount Pictures film appeared on its way to surpassing $100 million.
The weekend's other new releases didn't fare as well.
"Red Riding Hood," the updated fairy tale starring Amanda Seyfried and helmed by "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke, debuted to $14.1 million for Warner Bros.
Worse was Disney's animated 3-D family film "Mars Needs Moms!" It opened to a disappointing $6.8 million, well below expectations. With a voice cast including Seth Green and Joan Cusack, it also opened on more than 200 IMAX screens.
Based on the book of the same title by Berkeley Breathed, "Mars Needs Moms!" had an estimated production budget of $150 million. Such a poor start means it's likely to be a significant loss for Disney, though that pain is somewhat alleviated by its surprise hit, "Gnomeo & Juliet." It has taken in $89 million in five weeks.
Overall, moviegoing business was still down from the corresponding weekend last year. Since November 2010, such down weekends have been the norm except for one up weekend. The box office for 2011 was 21.5 percent off last year's pace.
Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian said the weekend business was "good news for aliens, bad news for the overall box office."
"It's a cyclical business, but this is a long downturn," said Dergarabedian. "The industry is holding its collective breath for summer to start."
With myriad blockbusters planned for both the summer and holiday seasons, Hollywood has reason to expect better business as the year continues.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Battle: Los Angeles," $36 million.
2. "Rango," $23.1 million.
3. "Red Riding Hood," $14.1 million.
4. "The Adjustment Bureau," $11.5 million.
5. "Mars Needs Moms!" $6.8 million.
6. "Hall Pass," $5.1 million.
7. "Beastly," $5.1 million
8. "Just Go With It," $4 million.
9. "The King's Speech," $3.6 million.
10. "Gnomeo & Juliet," $3.5 million. (AP)
LOS ANGELES: A film of grimm banality, "Red Riding Hood" puts a bloodthirsty "Twilight" spin on a fairy tale already possessed of an unusually macabre climax.
As it thuds along from one wolf attack to the next, Catherine Hardwicke's first film since taking leave of Bella and her toothy friends adamantly refuses to provide any wit, humor or fun, concerning itself mostly with the heroine's taxing dilemma of picking between the rural village's two best looking boys.
Still, with Warner Bros. delivering a massive campaign aimed at a ready-and-drooling target audience, some big opening numbers lie in wait this weekend.
"Red Riding Hood" is in the vanguard of what appears to be an onslaught of live-action fairy tale-derived studio features over the next year or so. What triggered this trend remains unclear, but one can only hope that the level of cleverness and invention improves, as things hardly get off to an inspired start here.
Restricting the action almost entirely to a small Ruritanian community where everyone but the visiting Gary Oldman speaks in mundane American accents, the script by David Leslie Johnson ("Orphan") pivots on two central creative ploys -- to turn a mere wolf into a werewolf and to transform the ancient story into a whodunnit in which the lovely young Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) must figure out who among the locals nocturnally mutates into the massive black hound that killed her sister and converses to her, hoping she'll run away with it.
Is it Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the cute but poor woodcutter who has been her true love since childhood and himself would love to take her away? Might it possibly be his rival, Henry (Max Irons), the prosperous blacksmith Valerie's mother (Virginia Madsen) has arranged for her to marry? Could it be Dad (Billy Burke, the sad-sack father from "Twilight"), who boozes it up with regularity? Or, heaven forbid, is the wolf perhaps Grandma herself (Julie Christie), a bohemian eccentric who lives on her own out in the forest and has yellowish-brown eyes quite like those of the wolf itself?
Officially taking charge of the case once the wolf begins attacking humans for the first time in 20 years is Father Solomon (Oldman), an itinerant werewolf hunter in cleric's robes who resembles his Biblical namesake far less than he does Torquemada, so convinced is he that his inquisitional techniques can elicit a confession of lycanthropy.
As in "Thirteen," "The Nativity Story" and "Twilight" before it, "Red Riding Hood" allows Hardwicke to focus on the emotional trials of a teenager thrust unceremoniously onto the rocks of extreme grown-up dilemmas and feeling her way toward solutions.
Unfortunately, the context here is hokier than in any of the director's previous films and, as she's not a stylist or genre specialist, she has little to bring to this sort of material other than a natural empathy for the lead character. The dialogue exchanges possess no spark, the action is indifferently covered by random camera moves and cuts and the only jolts are provoked by cheap shock-cuts to the growling or roaring wolf.
The only memorable image is the fortunately frequently appearing one of Seyfried with her blond hair flowing from beneath the eponymous scarlet cloak that matches her pillow lips. Otherwise, the young actress has seen better days than this before and assuredly will again. The local men are boringly one-note but the casting of Christie was smart, as she bestows her iconoclastic spirit upon the ambiguous grandma.
The Vancouver-shot production, mostly confined to a studio set, has a rather dreary look spiced here and there by unusual production and costume design details that lend modern touches. (Reuters)
HOLLYWOOD: Royal drama "The King's Speech" was crowned with Oscars gold on Sunday, taking three of the top Academy Award prizes, including best actor for self-mocking Englishman Colin Firth.
The movie grabbed the coveted best film and best director awards as well as Firth's gong for his portrayal of a stammering King George VI, helped by an Australian voice coach to rally wartime Britain.
Best original screenplay completed a four-Oscar haul -- the same as hi-tech thriller "Inception" and one more than Facebook movie "The Social Network," which had a disappointing night after being tipped as possible best film.
Screenwriter David Seidler used his acceptance speech to jokingly thank Queen Elizabeth II, among others, as well as stutterers everywhere.
"I would like to thank Her Majesty the Queen for not putting me in the Tower of London" for putting swear words in George VI's mouth. "And I accept this on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world.
"We have a voice, we have been heard," said Seidler, who himself suffered from a stammer, echoing a line from the movie.
"The Social Network," nominated in eight Oscars categories, ended up going home with only three, and none of the major ones: film editing, original score and adapted screenplay for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin paid tribute afterwards to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose portrayal in the movie is not overly flattering.
"I think he's been an awfully good sport about this," he told reporters. "I don't know if any of us want to have a movie made about when we were 19."
"Inception," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a hired hand who penetrates people's dreams, won four Oscars: cinematography, visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing, while a heavily pregnant Natalie Portman, as expected, won best actress for her role in disturbing ballet thriller "Black Swan."
Boxing movie "The Fighter" took two gongs -- best supporting actor for Christian Bale, and best supporting actress for Melissa Leo, who had both been favorites to win.
In a rare edgy moment on an otherwise drama-free night, Leo's use of the F-word in her acceptance speech had to be cut out of the time-delayed broadcast.
"I had no idea, I apologize to anyone I offended," she later said.
"The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper related the extraordinary story of how he only came to make the movie thanks to the help of his Australian mother, who was in the audience.
"My mum in 2007 was invited by some Australian friends -- she's Australian -- in London, to a fringe theater play reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play called 'The King's Speech'," said the 38-year-old Brit.
He explained: "She's never been invited to a play reading her entire life before. She almost didn't go because it didn't sound exactly promising, but thank God she did.
"She rang me up after, said, Tom, I think I found your next film. So, with this tonight, I honor you and the moral of the story is, listen to your mother."
In other prizes, "Toy Story 3," the third instalment of the family-friendly franchise starring Woody, Buzz Lightyear and co. won best animated feature Oscar as expected.
And the best foreign film prize went to "In a Better World" by Denmark's star director Susanne Bier, who vanquished movies from Algeria, Canada, Greece and Mexico.
The Oscars is the culmination of the multi-billion movie industry's awards season and has been preceded by months of frantic campaigning for the coveted gold statuettes.
The ceremony marked the second year that 10 films were competing for the best picture prize, up from five previously. The academy expanded the category in a bid to include more popular films. This year, most of the top contenders crossed the $100 million mark at the box office.
Firth, who had been seen as a shoo-in for best actor, made a typically self-deprecating acceptance speech, opening up with: "I have a feeling my career's just peaked.
"I'm afraid I have to warn you that I'm experiencing stirrings, somewhere in the upper abdominals, which are threatening to form themselves into dance moves," he went on.
"Joyous as they may be for me, it would be extremely problematic if they make it to my legs before I get off stage," he added, referring to his role in the ABBA-inspired musical hit Mamma Mia!.
He won over Jeff Bridges -- who beat Firth to the best actor Oscar last year -- in "True Grit," Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network," James Franco in "127 Hours" and Spanish heart-throb Javier Bardem in "Biutiful."
Portman's rivals for best actress were veteran Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right," Australia's Nicole Kidman for "Rabbit Hole," Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone" and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine." (AFP)
PARIS: Director Xavier Beauvois on Friday won best film award for his ‘Des Hommes et des Dieux’ in France's version of the Oscars, the Cesars, and said the movie about monks kidnapped and murdered in Algeria shed some ‘intelligence’ on the 1996 event.
Accepting the award Beauvois described the film as a "message of equality, liberty, fraternity".
The best director award went to Roman Polanski for "The Ghost Writer" while Eric Elmosnino was best actor in "Gainsbourg (vie heroique)" and Sara Forestier picked up the best actress prize for her part in "Le nom des gens."(AFP)
A media report says the Prince of Pop, Ali Zafar will soon play a key role in Dhoom: 3, the third installment of the Indian action film series, which is being produced by Yash Raj Films (YRF).
Rumour has it that the producer of the film Aditya Chopra, has been so impressed by Ali Zafar who is currently working in his movie Mere Brother Ki Dulhan opposite Katrina Kaif that a possibility has risen that he will cast Ali in a key role in Dhoom: 3, reports Times of India.
Ali, whose Tere Bin Laden, scored overwhelming response has at least read 40 scripts post his debut film success in Bollywood. Rumour also has it that Ali Zafar has become very pally with Aditya Chopra and considers him a guide in Tinseltown.
Dhoom 3, which will be directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya (Victor), will feature Aamir Khan playing a negative character while Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra will reprise their previous roles.
The film would go on floors at the end of 2011 and is slated for a December (Christmas) 2012 release.
Aamir Khan is very keen on playing a villain in the film and says that the script is really amazing. He said, “Victor’s script really won me over and I look forward to working with him.”
Yash Chopra, the founder of Yash Raj Films adds, “Dhoom: 3 is possibly one of the best scripts coming out of our production house.”
If the rumours are true then it would be a great opportunity for the Prince of Pop to make his mark on the Indian film industry and to learn something from Aamir Khan who is known by the title ‘The Perfectionist’.