SAG BESTOWS DOUBLE LAURELS ON MIRREN, DICAPRIO
In their annual self-congratulations, the Screen Actors Guild selected Leonardo DiCaprio and Helen Mirren as nominees in two different categories of the 13th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. DiCaprio received a best-actor nomination for his role in Blood Diamond and a best-supporting-actor nomination for The Departed. Mirren received the best-actress nod for her title-role performance in The Queen and another best-actress nod in the "TV Movie or Miniseries" category for playing an earlier queen in Elizabeth I. The decision to -- in effect -- demote DiCaprio for his The Departed role avoids his having to compete against himself for a best-actor award, as he will have to do for a Golden Globe. The best-actor category also included Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland, Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson, Peter O'Toole for Venus, and Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness. Surprisingly absent from the list was Sacha Baron Cohenof Borat fame, who has been included in most year-end nominee lists by critics' groups. Besides Mirren, best-actress nominees included Penélope Cruz for Volver, Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal, Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada and Kate Winslet for Little Children. Babel, Dreamgirls and Little Miss Sunshine were nominated for best performance by a cast.
LITTLE CHANGE AT BOX OFFICE EXPECTED THIS WEEKEND
Night at the Museum, The Pursuit of Happiness, and Dreamgirls, all of which finished (in that order) at the top of the box office last week, are expected to remain at the top again this weekend. None of the three new films opening wide this weekend -- Freedom Writers, Happily N'Ever After, and Code Name: The Cleaner -- is expected to present much of a threat to their dominance. Neither are any of the films that bowed in limited release last month to qualify for Oscars and which will be expanding this weekend and next. They include Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, the critically acclaimed futuristic drama, which has performed impressively thus far; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; The Painted Veil; and Miss Potter.
MOVIE REVIEWS: HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER
Critics are not too happy about Happily N'Ever After, yet another kids cartoon that pokes fun at fairy tales, or as Misha Davenport describes it in the Baltimore Sun, "a paint-by-numbers, retelling of the classic fairy tale of Cinderella repackaged for today's allegedly cynical audiences." Or as Christy Lemire of the Associated Press describes it, "yet another fractured fairy tale in which the characters subvert their own genre in self-conscious, smart-alecky fashion." Ty Burr of the Boston Globe does allow that it will "divert small children, but so will a brightly colored object if you twirl it." And Liam Lacey sums up in the Toronto Globe & Mail: "After the first hour or so of strained puns and wisecracks, you start feeling that the sooner the ending comes, the happier it will be."
MOVIE REVIEWS: CODE NAME: THE CLEANER
Code Name: The Cleaner, starring Cedric the Entertainer, is being swept up and trashed by most critics. John Anderson in Newsday calls it, "the Motel 6 of comedies, the Taco Bell of refined taste and, in terms of Cedric's career, could have come with a half moon on the door." Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News begins her review by remarking, "Yep, it's January ... the month when a movie's end-credit outtakes are guaranteed to be funnier than any scene from the actual film." One of the better reviews for the movie comes from Kyle Smith in the New York Post, who remarks that the movie "isn't as bad as you'd think (and New Line Cinema has my permission to use that quotation in their ads)."
MOVIE REVIEWS: FREEDOM WRITERS
Freedom Writers turns out to be a rather unlikely winner among the January throwaways. Starring Hilary Swank in the role of Erin Gruwell, a real-life teacher whose classroom is made up of minority students, the film has what Manohla Dargis in the New York Times describes as "a strong emotional tug and smartly laid foundation." Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution remarks that "it infuses new energy into a timeworn formula." Several critics have high praise for Swank's performance. Swank, writes Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun, "has the gift of emotional transparency. No one's better at playing characters who arrive onscreen nearly blank and get shaped by experiences that unfold before our eyes." And Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times comments: "There is a raw, guileless quality to Swank that shreds any hint of condescension or exploitation." "Hilary Swank gives a powerhouse performance," writes Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune. But several critics aren't buying any of that. Bruce Westbrook in the Houston Chronicle writes: "Swank's film feels less like a strange truth than Hollywood fiction. That's not because we can't buy a California English teacher broadening her students' worldview from gang warfare to a grasp of history and the grace of humanity. It's because this film fails to earn what Gruwell earned in real life: credibility."
PIXAR RIDES COMING TO DISNEY THEME PARKS
There was no mention of the much-rumored plan to turn Tom Sawyer's Island into a Pirates of the Caribbean Island, but the Walt Disney Company did outline a number of planned additions to its theme parks that will be based on movies produced by Pixar. Among them will be the "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" that will return one of Disneyland's oldest rides to the Anaheim amusement park. "Submarine Voyage" opened in 1959 and remained an E-ticket attraction for 39 years (long after E-tickets were abandoned in 1981). Nemo will also inspire new attractions at Disney's Florida park, where Finding Nemo -- the Musical will be performed, and an aquarium called "The Seas with Nemo and Friends" will open. Other attractions will be based on Monsters Inc. and Cars.