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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Singer Spears taken to hospital

Singer Britney Spears has been taken to hospital by ambulance from her home in Los Angeles, police have said.
A police officer told Associated Press that the pop star was being taken to hospital to "get help", but did not say which facility she was being taken to.

The authorities have yet to disclose any further details.

Earlier this year Spears, 26, was admitted to hospital after refusing to surrender custody of her two sons in a stand-off with the police.

'Mental issues'

The star was released from the Cedar-Sinai Medical Center after a day and a half. The details of her medical treatment were not revealed.

Sole custody of Sean Preston, two, and Jayden James, who is one, was awarded to Spears' ex-husband Kevin Federline after the incident.

The singer was also denied visitation rights to her children.

Earlier this week, US talk show host Barbara Walters claimed that Spears has been receiving treatment for "mental issues".

She said Spears' manager Sam Lufti had told her the singer was suffering from psychiatric problems that are "treatable".

"She has been having mood swings. She's been having trouble sleeping," Walters said on her show The View.

TV therapist Dr Phil McGraw, who visited Spears during her hospital stay last month, said at the time that he thought she was "in dire need of both medical and psychological intervention".

McGraw, who cancelled a planned TV show on the singer's predicament, was later criticised by Spears' family for speaking publicly about the matter.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

No Country For Old Men Wins

"No Country for Old Men" solidified its Academy Awards prospects Sunday by taking overall cast honors alongside Javier Bardem's supporting-actor prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which may stand as the highlight of Hollywood's film-honors season if the writers strike undermines the Oscars

Past Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis of "There Will Be Blood" and Julie Christie of "Away From Her" won the lead-acting honors, also giving them a boost to win the same trophies at the Oscars. Day-Lewis dedicated his win to Heath Ledger, the 28-year-old Australian actor who was found dead in his Manhattan loft last week.

"In `Brokeback Mountain,' he was unique, he was perfect," said Day-Lewis, already an Oscar winner for "My Left Foot." "That scene in the trailer at the end of the film is as moving as anything I think I've ever seen."

Actors bid fond farewell to one of TV's most-acclaimed series ever as "The Sopranos" swept the dramatic categories, grabbing the lead-acting honors for James Gandolfini and Edie Falco and, minutes later, the overall cast award.

The SAG show itself was generally free of labor talk, with only Christie addressing the matter openly among the winners.

"It's lovely to receive an award from your own union," she said, "especially at a time when we're being so forcefully reminded how important unions are."

Bardem had kind words for Joel and Ethan Coen, who directed "No Country" and adapted the screenplay from Cormac McCarthy's novel.

"Thank you, guys, for hiring me, and thank you for taking the hard work of choosing the good takes instead of the ones where I really sucked," said Bardem, who won for his chilling role as a relentless killer tracking a fortune in missing drug money.

Ruby Dee won supporting actress for "American Gangster." She shared fond thoughts of her late husband and frequent acting partner, Ossie Davis, who died in 2005.

"I accept it also for my husband Ossie," the 83-year-old Dee said, "because he's working on things up there."

Though its last episode aired several months ago, "The Sopranos" grabbed all three TV drama categories to open the ceremony.

"Ten years ... I wish for everybody in every walk of life, but particularly for actors, to have the opportunity to have a work experience like I have had with my family here," Falco said. "You're not supposed to get this attached because it's a transient business. I have fallen in love with these people and I don't know how you walk away from that."

Minutes before, Gandolfini took the first trophy of the night in a star-studded ceremony — something of an anomaly in this strike-hobbled awards season.

"This is our last official act as Sopranos together," Gandolfini said. "Here's to you guys. Thank you very much. It's been 10 years. It's been an honor. That's all I can say."

For comedy series, Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey were the lead-acting winners for "30 Rock," while "The Office" won for best ensemble.

Normally a lesser cousin to the Golden Globes and Oscars, the SAG Awards could end up being the biggest celebration this time around: The swanky Globes were canceled because of a strike by the Writers Guild of America, which refused to let its members work on the show, and the fate of the Oscars on Feb. 24 is in question because of the same labor quarrel.

Not so for the SAG honors. The actors union has been steadfast in support of striking writers, who in turn gave their blessing to the SAG ceremony.

Instead of the debacle for the Globes, which were curtailed to a star-free news conference after actors and filmmakers made it clear they would not cross writers' picket lines, the SAG ceremony came off with a full complement of Hollywood A-listers.

"We're really proud of the solidarity we've built with the Writers Guild," said Alan Rosenberg, SAG president. "Our members have understood that and taken it to heart. I was really moved by their decision not to go to the Golden Globes, our nominees. It's tough times, but it's been gratifying, as well."

Backstage, Fey said the writers strike leaves "30 Rock" at risk since the show is a critical success but not necessarily a huge hit with viewers.

"We are exactly the kind of show that's put in jeopardy by the strike," Fey said.

The obligatory package of clips to honor stars who died in the past year took on more immediacy, ending with a moment from "Brokeback Mountain" featuring Ledger. The cause of his death had not yet been determined.

The guild presented its life-achievement award to Charles Durning, whose credits include "The Sting," "Tootsie" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

"There's nothing more gratifying than having an achievement award from one's peers," Durning said. "Over 50 years ago, I had the honor of working with some of the best actors, directors and writers in our industry. It's been a dream come true."

The guild's first-ever prizes for best stunt ensemble went to "The Bourne Ultimatum" for films and "24" for TV before the ceremony began.

On Saturday, "No Country" won top honors at the Directors Guild of America Awards for the Coen brothers; the winner there usually goes on to take home the directing Oscar.

As with the Golden Globes, the Writers Guild has made it clear that its members would not be allowed to work on the Oscars. While stars generally have said they would skip the show rather than cross picket lines, Oscar organizers insist their telecast will take place as scheduled.

Amy Ryan, a SAG and Oscar supporting-actress nominee for "Gone Baby Gone," said at the Directors Guild awards Saturday that she would not cross a picket line to attend the Oscars.

"I hope it ends but, more, I hope the writers get their due," Ryan said. "I think that, at the end of the day, is more important than a party. But I really hope it works out because I'd like to go to the party."

Coen Pair Win Top Directing Award

Coen brothers film No Country for Old Men has won top prize at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) awards.
"Oh, we get two of them," Ethan Coen said as he and brother Joel were presented with their trophies for outstanding feature film achievement.

The crime drama is already leading the Oscar nominations along with There Will Be Blood, with eight nods each.

The DGA awards have often proved to be an accurate barometer for who will win the Best Director Academy Award.

The film stars Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem and tells the story of a drug deal that goes wrong on the US-Mexico border.

The Coen brothers beat off competition from fellow directors Sean Penn, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tony Gilroy and Julian Schnabel.

The DGA represents the directors of films and TV programmes.

Other winners included Yves Simoneau, who won the best director for a TV film prize for Bury My Heart on Wounded Knee.

Unlike many awards ceremonies, the DGA honours are always untelevised, so it has been unaffected by the screenwriters' strike which turned the Golden Globes into a low-key affair earlier this month.

In contrast, the Screen Actors' Guild awards will be the first red carpet event of the film awards season on Sunday evening.

Oscars doubt

The strike will not affect the ceremony - with actors showing solidarity with the writers, SAG has reached an agreement with one of the Writers Guild members to write the script for the ceremony.

US TV shows are expected to boost their coverage of this year's ceremony because of the possibility it will be the only glitzy awards event this year - there is still uncertainty over how the strike will affect the Oscars next month.

But some predicted the red carpet would still be a sombre affair due to the strike and the recent death of actor Heath Ledger.

"I think it will be a little low-key based on Heath Ledger, a fellow actor, and considering what the strike has done to people who have lost a lot of money, are out of work, are losing their homes," Rob Silverstein, the executive producer of TV show Access Hollywood, told Reuters.

Oscar officials have said its ceremony will go ahead as planned on 24 February but the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has not yet granted a waiver in the event the strike has not been resolved by that date.

Best cast

Sean Penn's road trip movie Into the Wild leads the field for the SAG Awards with a total of four nominations.

Alongside Into The Wild, No Country for Old Men, 3:10 To Yuma, Hairspray and American Gangster are recognised in the best cast category.

Into the Wild star Emile Hirsch is nominated for best actor along with George Clooney for Michael Clayton, Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood, Ryan Gosling for Lars and the Real Girl and Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises.

Cate Blanchett, Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard, Angelina Jolie and Ellen Page are all nominated in the best actress category.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Movie Review : Untraceable

It’s taking the easy way out to say Untraceable’s simply a ‘cyber’ version of a Saw film, but there are enough similarities between this crime story and the Saw franchise to make it a fair comparison. What this dramatic thriller has going for it that’s not necessarily found in a Saw movie are solid performances from its leading actors, Diane Lane, Colin Hanks and Billy Burke. That, along a premise that’s incredibly relevant as well as disturbingly chilling, sets this one apart from Saw and its spawns.

The Story

Do you slow down when passing a car crash? Are you one of those people who can’t help but watch replays of horrible accidents on TV and/or online? With Untraceable, the moral question posed is along those same lines. If you knew about a website with live video of a stranger being tortured and killed, would you click on the link and check out what’s going on?

Lane stars as Special Agent Jennifer Marsh, an integral part of the FBI’s newly formed cybercrimes unit located in Portland, Oregon. Marsh and her partner Griffin Dowd (Hanks) spend their nights on duty surfing the internet seeking out criminal behavior. Dealers of kiddy porn, sexual predators, and other sickos are their targets as the team attempts to keep the internet safe.

An anonymous tip leads the investigators to Visiting the site, Lane and Dowd see a kitten being lured into a trap and left to die in front of a video camera streaming the feed in real time on the net. It’s extremely disturbing, but Lane’s told by her boss to focus on crimes against humans. However, the killing of the poor kitten was just a way to entice viewers to the site. From that jumping off point, the creep who created the website progresses to torturing and killing a man for millions to see. In fact, he’s counting on millions of sets of eyes watching the horrific event unfold. The more people visit his site, the faster the victim dies.

Lane, Dowd, and local cop Detective Eric Box (Burke) need to discover the killer’s physical address, but he’s as computer savvy as the FBI team trying to catch him. His site is virtually untraceable. Complicating and aggravating matters, the publicity generated by the case only serves to help increase the number of visitors to Law enforcement’s only hope is to somehow find a connection between the seemingly random victims and whoever runs the site. But as they’re tracking down the psycho, he’s not only one step ahead of them but also ready and willing to make things personal for the officers involved in the investigation.

The Acting

Diane Lane does a fine job of playing a tough-as-nails FBI computer cybercrime whiz who finds it hard to balance life as a single mother with her job. Each night she surfs her way through the worst the web has to offer. Each day, she tries to leave those images behind and concentrate on just being a mom. Lane delivers a solid performance, seemingly equally at ease slinging around all the technical jargon and hosting a birthday party for her young daughter at a roller rink. Lane also shows she can convincingly handle the action parts. When push comes to shove and she’s forced into getting physical, Lane turns into a real tigress.

Colin Hanks was apparently cut out of the same ‘everyman’ mold as his famous father, Tom. Hanks provides what little comic relief there is in the film, although it’s humor that’s totally appropriate for the situations. The jokes don’t feel as though - as they often do in this dark of a film - they were inserted simply to lighten the mood.
Billy Burke takes on the romantic interest sort of role as the handsome cop who not only assists with the investigation but offers Lane some off-duty support as needed. Officer Box is a character we’ve seen over and over again, but Burke does a good job of fleshing out a role that’s written as only one-dimensional.

The Bottom Line

Cat lovers and those who found Saw or Hostel too disturbing to watch may want to stay away from Untraceable. Or, in lieu of avoiding the film altogether, be prepared to hide your eyes during any scene that takes place in a basement. If the interior is dark and a character is walking downstairs, or a video camera is shown with its red light on, that might be a good time for the squeamish to go for soda or popcorn.

For the most part Untraceable is a taut and compelling game of cat (no pun intended) and mouse with the good guys really up against the wall. The idea of visitors to a website being so intimately involved in heinous murders is quite thought-provoking and a real disturbing premise for a film. And director Gregory Hoblit definitely serves up the chills and the gore (oh yes, there’s graphic violence aplenty in this R-rated pic), but he does so without forgetting to move the human drama forward for a good three-quarters of the movie.
Unfortunately, the story stumbles and the edge-of-your-seat thriller transforms into just another clichéd cop drama during its last 30-40 minutes. Characters act stupidly and a jarring line of dialogue from the beginning of the film, one you just knew would have to come back into play, sure enough does wind up playing an important part late in the film. Untraceable gets thrown off its rails and can’t recover the momentum it had edging into the final act. It’s frustrating to watch what was a completely absorbing thriller degenerate into something so predictable. Not even Lane's solid performance can salvage a disappointing finale.


Untraceable was directed by Gregory Hoblit is rated R for some prolonged sequences of strong gruesome violence and language.

Theatrical Release Date: January 25, 2008

Diane Lane Talks About 'Untraceable'

Diane Lane stars as FBI Agent Jennifer Marsh in the dramatic thriller Untraceable. Although her character is an expert at investigating criminals on the internet, Lane admits she’d be perfectly happy living in the dark ages, back before cell phones and text messaging. Learning to speak the ‘language’ of a cybercrimes investigator was just as hard as learning a foreign language. “I’m lousy at it. I’m allowed to hang out in the room with these people,” laughed Lane. “I can’t really participate. It’s different. They are born into it. I very reluctantly started paying attention when I was 30. I just don’t have the brain cells to rub together fast enough, you know?”

Lane’s character patrols the internet in search of sexual predators and other criminal activity.

When Marsh and her partner Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) are made aware of a horribly creepy website – – they don’t initially take the concept seriously. That quickly changes when the site’s owner progresses from killing an animal on camera to human victims. The more users log on to his site, the faster his victims die. It’s up to Agent Marsh and her team of experts to determine the man’s physical location before more men die at the hands of this sick serial killer.
Lane worked closely with an expert in the field in order to get into character. What she learned while doing her research for the film left quite an impression on the actress. “The more I got exposed to the need for these people to exist, they’re angels,” said Lane. “They’re paid to do intervention against malicious attempts on the internet. I’m so naïve I didn’t know that viruses do not spontaneously occur, like in nature. I mean, doesn’t the term virus imply it just grew in a petri dish? We don’t know how. Oh no, some brainiac sat down and figured out how to make everybody miserable, like an arsonist. Why? Do you have nothing better to do with your life? I guess not. I don’t know what to say. I’m so disappointed in human beings and myself for not knowing better.”

Lane has teenagers at home - teenagers who do spend time on the internet. As a parent, Lane has set down rules for using the internet but she realizes, more so now after working on Untraceable, that there’s no way to be too cautious when surfing online. “The concern is in this story people fall victim to what they’re solicited,” explained Lane. “That’s automatically not the smartest choice, you know? You can fall uphill and get lucky or you can fall in the black hole and never come out again in this story. “

“A lot of people online the whole point, certainly when the internet was invented – even before the internet itself – being on computers in the 80s, we would invent a new identity,” said Lane. “And, ‘I’ll be so sexy online,’ and , ‘I’ll be 20 again,’ or whatever people have in their heads. Or, ‘I’ll get all the babes and I’ll have all my hair back,’ whatever people want. This was the vapidity of the original fantasy that people created about what being online was going to do for them. I mean, it’s just the lowest common denominator possible. So, it’s interesting what comes. We think it and then we make it real, to a certain degree. And then we have all these cautionary tales that grow out of it. I’m so glad the FBI exists I can’t tell you, after seeing what’s on the internet and how they’re stopping the bad guys.”

Lane was initially drawn to Untraceable because of the film’s social commentary. The basic premise is both relevant and disturbing. “There’s a couple of different co-existing, I guess, metaphors, if you will, that the film deals with,” explained Lane. “I wanted to know so much what they were going to be having on the radio in my character’s car when I was going to be driving to and from work because, as you can well imagine, it would be the talk everywhere. It would be a global issue. I’m saying here we are in one city dealing with this issue, but it would be global pretty quickly and what would you do to try and shut down and stop people from paying attention, if by paying attention it increased the problem? Therein lies the rub and the indictment of people and the anonymity that people [think] it’s okay. I don’t know what to say. I think there’s a pretty good, not litmus test, of who you are by seeing what you would choose to do alone in a room with a computer for four days. You know who you are by your tastes. You know who you are by that sort of thing, and there you are.”

Lane continued, “The indictment within our story too [is] that this online bad guy is excluding other people, so it’s really just an American indictment issue. He’s accomplishing a lot with one blow; [he has] many agendas. I like movies that make me think. To do a thriller like this, I wanted it to be smart enough to make me think, and it does.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Movie Review : Cloverfield

Remember six months ago when that first shaky cam trailer for an untitled JJ Abrams production hit theaters in front of Transformers and then, shortly after, the internet? The buzz was deafening. That first quick teaser trailer opened with a bunch of people at a party and then ended with the Statue of Liberty’s head in the middle of a New York street. That teaser generated an immense amount of interest and a lot of head-scratching. No title, no director, just the release date… What the heck was this thing JJ Abrams created and why the secrecy surrounding even the movie’s title?

Those questions were kind of answered over the past half dozen months, and the title was confirmed as Cloverfield (the street where Abrams’ office is located), but that led to even more questions and concerns. When news spread that Cloverfield is Abrams’ attempt at a monster movie, the reaction was mixed. Would it be cheesy? Why is the guy who co-created, produced, and directed Felicity at the helm? Do we really need to see New York City under attack? Well, put away your crackers. There’s no cheese in sight. Matt Reeves might not be the first person you’d think of when it comes to directing a Godzilla-ish flick, but he was the right guy for Cloverfield. And although much of the first half of the film is distressingly reminiscent of the horrific events of 9/11 (including gigantic dust clouds and people screaming for help while running away from destroyed buildings), it is, after all is said and done, just a monster movie - albeit one told from an unusual and intensely personal point of view.

The Story

Rob (Michael-Stahl David) and his long-time close friend Beth (Odette Yustman) hook up for at least one night of non-wedded bliss. That much we know for sure because of snippets of a video recorded in her bedroom after they had sex, snippets we see at random moments throughout the film.

Flash-forward a month from their night together and Rob’s set to leave for Japan to take on a VP job at some company. Rob and Beth apparently never got together as a couple and she’s at his send-off with another guy. Rob wants her, but something’s obviously gone wrong with their relationship.

Meanwhile, Rob’s going away party is loaded with pretty people drinking, gossiping, and leaving farewell messages into a camera operated by his buddy, rookie videographer Hud (TJ Miller). Also in attendance at this upscale Manhattan shindig is Rob’s younger brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s main squeeze Lily (Jessica Lucas). The party introduces us to one more key player, Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), the girl Hud has a thing for who has no idea Hud even exists.
An earthquake signals the end of the going away party setup, but those first 20 minutes of the movie do provide all the backstory you ever need to know on the five main players. Screenwriter Drew Goddard (Lost), director Reeves and Abrams know the audience wants, needs, is dying to see a monster, but give them credit for taking the time to let us connect with the people whose story we’ll be a part of for the remainder of the film. If we don’t embrace Rob, Beth, Jason, Lily and Hud, then Cloverfield would be dead in the water.

Once the monster hits – literally – the city, Cloverfield explodes into a run for your life action film. But it also manages, strangely enough, to keep the story small at the same time. Everything that goes down is recorded by Hud and that footage puts us up close and personal into the terrifying events.

Because we know the key players, Cloverfield never devolves into the standard scream and be eaten horror fare. There’s a point to Rob and his friends running around the city, which makes their journey meaningful. Rob needs to help rescue Beth, and that’s the only thing pushing him forward.

The Bottom Line
A couple minutes in, watching these people we don’t know party away, you may be tempted to write Cloverfield off. Patience, people, patience. The monster’s coming and the anticipation and build-up is well worth the wait.

There are flashes of gargantuan legs, shots from above of the creature’s back, and other brief glimpses of the beast throughout the film. Anyone who thinks Cloverfield’s just a tease has it all wrong. The monster is there on the screen and he’s absolutely amazing to see. The CGI throughout the film is first-rate, from the smashing of recognizable New York City landmarks to the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge. But the monster itself is the cherry on top of this post-Christmas treat.

Now about that shaky cam… It’s not that bad. Honest. You actually get used to it and, more importantly, it’s absolutely the right way to tell this tale. That hand-held camera is not just a cutesy plot device; it’s a key player in telling the story. If a monster were to attack a major city, odds are the devastation would be captured on hundreds, if not thousands, of personal video cameras. It would also be recorded on cell phones, which is exactly what we see happening throughout the film and specifically after the Statue of Liberty’s severed head lands far from its body somewhere in the city. The amateur video angle was the smart way to go, but take some Dramamine before entering the theater if you’re prone to any sort of motion sickness whatsoever.

Abrams and company chose to go with unfamiliar faces in the lead roles and that was also a very smart decision. It’s very easy to connect with the Cloverfield leads because they are mostly complete strangers to us (although Vogel’s been in a lot of films and Miller’s currently on the TV series Carpoolers). As Hud, Miller’s job is to capture all the action of the monster attack while keeping it real. The character of Hud helps us remember at all times that above all else, Cloverfield’s an intimate character-driven drama centering on a very small group of friends. He’s also there to provide a little comic relief, which unfortunately is inappropriate at times.

Pay attention at all to the film’s beginning and you know how it’ll end. But what’s in between the faux government labels opening sequence and the roll of the credits is an 84 minute white knuckle ride like no other. What a way to start off 2008!


Cloverfield was directed by Matt Reeves and is rated PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.

Theatrical Release Date: January 18, 2008

Review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I was hoping for a chance to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a second time before I wrote my review, but only to confirm my suspicions that it's a surprising near-masterpiece, certainly one of the year's best films, and the best Western to come across the range since Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1996). I had been looking forward to the film, mainly because 2007 had previously yielded two very good Westerns in Seraphim Falls and 3:10 to Yuma (we'll say nothing more about the wretched September Dawn). I had also admired New Zealand director Andrew Dominik's previous and only other feature, Chopper (2000). But none of this prepared me for the scope, artistry and brilliance of this new film.

The drawback is that the 160-minute The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is going to be one of those "difficult" movies that doesn't get the recognition it deserves, mainly because it can't be quickly explained or understood, or broken down into a 30-second sound byte. It's not a sweeping, spectacular epic, but rather a quiet, wintry epilogue. It will be critiqued with single words: "long," "boring," "confusing." Nevertheless, it's in good company with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, Jane Campion's In the Cut, Gus Van Sant's Gerry, George A. Romero's Land of the Dead, Terrence Malick's The New World, Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, David Lynch's Inland Empire and William Friedkin's Bug -- all movies that will eventually have their day in the sun despite their current sad critical standing. The real hitch is that Jesse James chooses not to deconstruct the James myth, as would be the expected, rational approach in our post-modern age, but rather embraces it and expands on it.

Brad Pitt stars -- and deserves Oscar consideration -- as Jesse James at the tail end of the bandit's illustrious career. He's living with his wife and two kids under an assumed name, posing as a gentleman of means and respect. He pulls his last job, robbing a train, with the help of his older brother Frank (Sam Shepard) and a band of hired goons and half-wits. With the aid of cinematographer Roger Deakins, this opening sequence already astonishes with its unique use of light and darkness among the slender, splintery trees. (The landscape perfectly reflects the character's psychology throughout.) One of the goons is Charley Ford (Sam Rockwell), brother of Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), who is one of the biggest fans James ever had. Bob has a shoebox full of James memorabilia, including all those fantastical dime novels full of exciting, shoot-em-up adventure tales. Bob somehow makes an impression on the mysterious Jesse; he's invited to stay with the family for a few days. James further fuels Bob's fantasies by neither confirming nor denying all those tales, and doing mystifying things like chopping off the heads of live snakes.

From there the movie turns into a kind of chess game, in which the gang separates and the members each ride through the snow and countryside to get to one another, presumably to get the upper hand on one another. It's a bit complex and a tad confusing, but this is where Dominik's film shows its brilliance. Jesse may have been the nation's first great celebrity -- the narration makes it known that more people could identify him than the president -- and he plays into this power with ultimate mastery. James can sit across a table from a man and watch the man watching him, and seem to know exactly what's going on. Pitt couldn't be more perfect for the role; he has a way of licking his lips that lets us know he's in control and that he savors that control. Even when characters appear apart from James, they're under his gaze. If nobody else, including the audience, fully understands the setup, James certainly does.

When it comes time for the assassination of the title, the movie does it by the book: Bob Ford shoots Jesse in the back, in his own home, with a gun given to Bob by Jesse, while Jesse is balanced on a ladder straightening a picture. The movie sets it up as if James has choreographed the entire scene, like Obi-Wan Kenobi allowing himself to be cut down by Darth Vader because the repercussions will be far greater than the moment itself. The film winds down with an extended epilogue showing the remainder of Ford's life, his infamy and folly, and including a vicious, real ballad sung by Nick Cave. I can't think of a better Ford than Casey Affleck; he has a smart, weasel-like quality, but he also serves as the movie's unexpected protagonist. He's closer to any of us than James will ever be. He deserves to share company with John Carradine, who played the character in Jesse James (1939) and Fritz Lang's sequel The Return of Frank James (1940), and he surpasses the slightly clueless, iron-jawed John Ireland in Samuel Fuller's I Shot Jesse James (1949).

Going back to that narration, an actor named Hugh Ross reads it, and although most "real" filmmakers sneer at narration, this film uses it well. Not only does Ross read it with a sense of history and awe, but the narration also provides relevant information as to the approximate status of Jesse James' celebrity that the events in the film could only hint at. (A photograph of the dead James sold like candy in every general store on both sides of the Mississippi.) If I had seen the film a second time, I certainly would have written down some of the choice dialogue, which is spoken by the characters in clever and polite tones, feeling out the words like smooth stones in a river. It's dialogue so rich that Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges surely would have applauded it. (Dominik wrote the screenplay, based on Ron Hansen's 1983 book.) One scene in which James Gang member Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) seduces the young wife of his partner's father ought to be studied and emulated by anyone who wishes a career in the seductive arts.

Finally, we come down to Dominik's direction. In taking on the Jesse James story, he walks in the footsteps of masters like Lang, Fuller and Nicholas Ray, not to mention Philip Kaufman and Walter Hill, but he honors them all. Chopper didn't reveal any particularly notable skill or talent, but here he approaches stylists like Malick and Lynch, spreading out his story across a wide canvas and taking his time with every detail. If James needs to spend a full minute sizing up an opponent, Dominik provides him that minute, uninterrupted and uncut. Pitt sinks his teeth into the part, perhaps understanding this power as only a modern-day celebrity can. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is by turns slippery, elusive, confusing and overpowering, exactly like the modern-day fame culture it mirrors.

Movie Star Heath Ledger Is Dead

Hollywood actor Heath Ledger has been found dead at a residence in Manhattan.

"He was found unconscious at the apartment and pronounced dead," the New York Police Department said, adding that pills were found near the body.

Police are reportedly investigating if the Australian actor, who earned an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain, died of a drug overdose.

Father Kim Ledger said that the death of his 28-year-old "dearly loved son" had been "tragic" and "accidental".

Speaking in the actor's home town of Perth, in Western Australia, Mr Ledger said that his son had been a "down to earth, generous, kind hearted, life-loving, unselfish individual".

"Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life that few had the pleasure of truly knowing him."

The 28-year-old was found dead in the flat at 1526 (2026 GMT) on Tuesday.


New York police said they did not suspect foul play and that his body had been discovered surrounded by pills.

"We are investigating the possibility of an overdose," police spokesman Paul Browne told Reuters news agency. "There were pills within the vicinity of the bed."

The BBC's Matthew Price in New York says the exact cause of death was still being investigated, but suicide has not been ruled out.

Police, journalists and crowds of fans are outside the Broome Street apartment in the fashionable SoHo area.

Investigators said Ledger had been due to have a massage at the flat.

The housekeeper went to tell him the masseuse had arrived and found him dead on Tuesday afternoon.

The medical examiner's office said an autopsy would be carried out on Wednesday.

In September the Perth-born actor split from his girlfriend Michelle Williams, with whom he has a two-year-old daughter, Matilda.

Williams played his wife in the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain.

Hollywood mourning

Hollywood's hierarchy were quick to offer their tributes and mourn Ledger's death.

I had such great hope for him," said Oscar-winning actor-director Mel Gibson. "He was just taking off and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss."

In 2001, Mr Gibson had cast Ledger to play his son in the American war of independence epic, The Patriot.

"What a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to his family," said fellow Australian actress Nicole Kidman.

American actor John Travolta, who was in Australia at the time of Ledger's death, said the young actor had been one of his favourite performers.

"His abilities are's a tremendous loss," said Mr Travolta.

Brokeback breakthrough

Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee said Ledger's performance had been a "miracle" of acting, echoing a young Marlon Brando.

He won an Oscar nomination for his role as a gay cowboy in the film but the award went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his role as Truman Capote.

Ledger starred in I'm Not There, as one of several actors in a role representing singer Bob Dylan.

He also plays the Joker in yet-to-be-released Batman film, The Dark Knight.

Ledger also starred in A Knight's Tale and The Patriot, and played a suicidal son in Monster's Ball.

No Country for Old Men

and evil do not befall men without reason. Heaven sends them happiness or misery according to their conduct.

Evil is good or truth misplaced

When MacBeth, Hamlet and other Shakespearean tragedies are presented to African tribes, the locals nod their heads in recognition. They relate in turn their own epics of “malfeasance” (as Frances Mcdormand’s Marge Gunderson characterizes criminal activity in “Fargo”).

Audiences have always been riveted by incidents of bad/evil behavior. Those of us with a spiritual practice often feel uncomfortable by our own fascination with, well…, brutality. We wonder what it says about us? Is it evidence of our fundamentally base and uncivilized nature? Are we not better off avoiding these kinds of stimuli so as to better cultivate the higher ideals represented by the spiritual heroes we idealize? “The Passion of the Christ” aside, (the most radical horror film of all time), are we not better off nourishing ourselves with the likes of “Gandhi”, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, “Siddhartha” and “Kundun”?

Much to the chagrin of those who believe that the art of cinema should focus on portrayals of peace and love, the New York Film Critics Circle has just selected the current Coen Brothers offering as its best picture. In New York, the Academy award winning brothers also triumph for best adapted screenplay from the Cormac McCarthy novel. Moreover, the Hannibal Lecter-like sociopath (Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh) walks away with the best supporting actor award. “No Country for Old Men” has already made its way to the top of the Golden Globes list, is a winner at a variety of other film festivals, and top Oscar nods are assured in February.

Returning to last year’s violent Academy winner “The Departed”, (and noting that “The Godfather” now occupies the top spot on most reviewer’s list of all time greats - having unseated Citizen Kane and Casablanca), there is little doubt that aggression and bloodshed play a compelling part in our stories and the movies that bring them to life. And bring them to death.

In effect, these become our meditations on good and evil, and all of the complexities that lie within. We are told by the wisdom of the ages that we are capable of the best and the worst of the world, since it is all housed within our being. Our collective unconscious - as well as our consciousness - understands what Krishna and Yoda always already know. There is no more doubt of the centrality of the dark side than there is of the Force itself.

The interaction of these forces as played out by the struggles of men and women with themselves and others is what constitutes the “action” movie. In the audience we find ourselves experiencing intensity as we’re moved by the energies on the screen that activates us somatically. This is our communion, our service, as we break popcorn with one another. We’re excited, confused, elated, inspired and afraid, and there is usually a life threatening danger lurking as the action unfolds. This is exactly what the hero is forced to confront and it’s never cute.

There are two hero roles in “No Country”. The first we encounter as the voice-over when the film opens with the camera panning slowly over a desolate southwestern desert. We listen to who we later learn is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). He’s reflecting on the sorry state of things in the USA border territories in 1980. He’s harkening back to earlier times of his father, and before. Times when many of the sheriffs never wore guns at all. In those days they relied more on skillful means to exercise and enforce the law. But things have changed. Now he can’t understand how a 14 year old that he recently had to escort to the electric chair had no hint of remorse for killing a young girl. He said he did it so he could see what it felt like to watch somebody die.

The Boomer generation is reminded of the Johnny Cash line from “Folsom Prison Blues”: “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Now I’m stuck in Folsom Prison. I hang my head and cry”. There’s also the lesser known ballad from Sting titled “I Hung my Head”:

Early one morning with time to kill
I borrowed Jeb's rifle and sat on the hill
I saw a lone rider crossing the plain
I drew a bead on him to practice my aim.
… the rider was dead
I hung my head.

In these songs the killers become haunted with regret and remorse. There’s no threat of any head hanging intruding into the dark mind of Anton Chigurh.

As villain’s go, Chigurh is particularly chilling. His “worst in show” haircut becomes one of his hallmarks that accompany his emotionally constrained sociopathic mannerisms. His outer appearance resembles the Malcolm McDowell visage of crazy from “A Clockwork Orange”, but his comportment is more Dr Lecter. It’s a signature and unmistakable creepiness all his own. Anton’s never been complicated by notions of warmth or remorse, and his moral line of development lays south of any complications of right and wrong. Early in the film we witness him dispassionately dispatching of a couple of unfortunates in sequential scenes. They meet him - and their respective ends - in equally different and disturbing ways. In one there is Chigurh’s compressed air cattle gun: his weapon of choice. That’s for when he’s not getting down and dirty in hand to hand combat. Be very afraid of this man. And now he’s on a mission. Things have gone sideways. He’s upset and looking for his money.

Chigurh is a classic illustration of the text-book psychopathic killer. He looks at other people as if they were aliens to be studied quizzically. He plays God in their world by inviting them into ritualistic games of chance, where a coin toss called wrong will cost them their life. He makes meaning through an array of lenses that always seem to end up getting blood on them. There’s no doubt about God’s having a sick sense of humor here.

A bit later on we hear Bell’s assessment of that mindset and its culture. “It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin “sir’ and “ma’am” the end is pretty much in sight.” This inquiry is the main thrust of the story. How have things regressed away from simple politeness, civic-mindedness and the other values that good neighbors and citizens live well by? In deconstructing the limiting constraints of traditional society, we realize our broad-axe has also cut out much of the social glue that holds “the good” together for people who need those supports the most.

As a modern day cowboy, Llewelyn Moss is played to perfection by Josh Brolin. He works as a welder and lives in a trailer with his wife Carla Jean. She works at Walmart, and is played by Kelly MacDonald (who shone as the fascinating female hero in the wonderful “Girl in the Café”). You get the idea that Moss was a respected soldier you didn’t mess with in Vietnam. An aspect of his goodness plays out when we see his conscience getting the best of him when he returns to a shootout scene later on to aid a struggling survivor. He knows the risk he is taking as he tells Carla Jean that he’s “fixin to do something dumber than hell”. But hey, he’s a good man, and also a bad ass man. He just wasn’t figuring on the likes of Anton Chigurh who make the Viet Cong look like good ‘ol boys. Big mistake.

We recently saw Brolin in “American Gangster” playing another excellent tough guy role. (He’s also gracing the cover of the Jan 08 GQ issue, appropriately titled “Return of the Tough Guy”). Like many Viet vets, Moss is taciturn and enigmatic. But unlike his role in Gangster, here he also exhibits a dry sense of humor along with a faintly tender side that peeks through. These are necessary elements for his role. He also enjoys subtly teasing his pure and simple wife in sweet ways, making Moss easy to warm to. Carla Jean becomes increasingly concerned as she finds out more about what Llewelyn’s been up to. As the other main hero in the film, Moss is soon finding himself on Chigurh’s bad side, and believes the money that can change the situation for he and Carla Jean is worth fighting and running for. You can feel that he’s confident he’ll be able to manage whoever’s after him.

Meanwhile, back at the beginning of the plot, while Bell’s voice-over fades we find Moss hunting for pronghorn in the desert. He wounds one, and while following the traces he intersects with a heavier trail of blood that we soon learn belongs to a large, limping pit-bull. This leads Moss to a scene straight out of Peckinpah’s “Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”. A drug deal gone wrong has left several men and a couple of attack dogs strewn around a few abandoned vehicles in the middle of nowhere. Now there are only flies buzzing hungrily in the baking sun and caking blood. The Coen bros allow you to almost smell the mayhem.

Carefully surveying the scene, Moss discovers and leaves alone a large stash of heroin in the back of the pickup where one Mexican is still holding narrowly to life in the cabin. Not much he can do for him he reckons. Moss follows his instincts. He asks where the “last man standing” is to no response. We realize he believes that there may have been someone who walked away on the money side of this blood-bath. Moss heads down the dirt road and sure enough, in the distance, he eventually catches sight of someone on the ridge through his binoculars. Outlined on the horizon is a very still silhouette sitting under the shade of a lone tree. The man is facing the other direction while Moss sits patiently and waits. After a couple of hours without movement Llewelyn slowly moves closer and discovers that the man has just bled to death from the wound he sustained at the shootout. And the burden he’s been carrying contains two million dollars.

What is one to do? Moss is comfortable in knowing that he’s not responsible for this man’s death. Now the money is there all by itself and those bad men don’t seem like they’ll be needing it any more. Hmmm… Llewelyn takes the cash and bolts. Wouldn’t you? Welcome to the moral dilemma we find ourselves experiencing as we walk a mile in Moss’s craggy cowboy boots.

As with other Coen brother’s movies (Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo), trouble begins with what seems to be a relatively simple opportunity. Yet soon and sure enough, unintended consequences begin to unfold, disrupting the simplicity as things begin to take unfortunate turns. It’s at these points that you wonder about the ethically gray territory you’re now tip-toeing through. Similarly, Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” finds Billy Bob Thornton (playing a clinically simple man) happening upon this same kind (wrong kind) of money in a crashed airplane while walking with his friend and brother in the woods. We can hear the universal refrain: “Gee, here’s this big bag of money that clearly belonged to what looks like some bad guys. Seems they fell on some bad times and here they are now dead. No sense in us just letting this money go to waste; either out here or in some government holding tank. Who’s to know? What’s the harm?”

It’s hard to condemn someone so tempted by this seeming serendipity solving a list of nagging financial problems? Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at the time. But then, something that seems too good to be true usually is. The number one rule in these situations, particularly as the Coen brothers frame them, is that there are no clean getaways.

By the time we leave the several scenes surrounding the bloodbath, Chigurh has already killed several men, including a couple of his partners. There is one chase scene at the end of this first act in which Moss is pursued by a pit bull down a river in early dawn that is electrifying.

When Sherriff Bell and his deputy survey this scene, the deputy remarks to his boss, shaking his head, “it’s a mess ain’t sheriff”. Bell’s droll wit roles out like greasy Texas chicken, “if it ain’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here”.

In his understated “aw shucks” manner, Bell is nonetheless aghast by this insane world of drug-crime and other senseless acts of violence. And they seem to be moving ever closer his way. He’s dismayed but not daunted, while animated by an encoded value system that holds sacrificing oneself for the sake of the public good as what’s most important in life.

I won’t share any more about the plot, other than mentioning that there is a hotel scene in El Paso that’s reminiscent of another El Paso hotel confrontation of the same sort. Laughlin’s Hotel was where Sam Peckinpah directed Steve McQueen in his gunfight against a ring of bad guys who are after his bag of stolen money in “The Getaway”. I have to wonder whether the Coen brothers didn’t sample from that well, and if so: well sampled! This time, on either sides of a door in a dark El Paso hotel, Moss and Chigurh bring the audience together in an extended silent meditation of suspense. They’re watching their breath, and listening very closely. Feverishly feeling foreboding.

This latest effort is the best Coen Brothers work to date. They’re on their game, applying ever-fresh originality to the action movie/hero’ journey as it hits all the right discordant notes. You’re drawn into experiencing a flowing and presenced state, surfing the excitement and the terror, the tenderness and the pain. It’s the heart of the American dream and its discontents. They create a meditation of Shiva and Kali for our collective fantasy with the quick easy fix. It’s disturbing dharma, but that’s what we’re moved by.

Everything comes together and works well in this movie. Jones, Brolin, Bardem and MacDonald all offer Oscar worthy performances. Woody Harrelson is well chosen to animate his sly, self-satisfied quirkiness as bounty hunter and Vietnam vet Carson Wells. The soundtrack is rich yet subtle and a perfect complement to the powerful lighting and shadow dance that is masterfully edited by the brothers.

Amongst other things, the film is contemplation on that most Integral of principles: the Shadow. In “No Country” we’re captivated by its gravity and its effect. Since Iraq there have been many conversations around American and European dinner tables around the nature of evil. About who is evil and why. Maybe it’s the terrorists, or maybe its George Bush and the Americans who are evil? However we judge these matters, what the film affirms is that there are indeed shadow elements that we do well to carefully regard. And not only to regard, but to strive to better integrate these energies into the means with which we understand and operate on our world.

Growth and development, in the service of a transpersonal transformation invites us to see all early meaning-making systems clearly. I believe this is one reason we feel informed and fascinated by these moving picture meditations on the dark side of the force. The matrix takes many forms, and there is liberation in engaging its contours through the engagement of the good and evil action film. The Coen brothers’ dojo is a powerful learning environment, and their practice creates a worthy challenge.

`No Country,' `Blood' tie for Oscar lead

"No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" led with eight Academy Awards nominations each Tuesday, among them best picture and acting honors for Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem — but whether any actors would show up was in doubt because of the writers strike.

"No Country for Old Men," a crime saga about a drug deal gone bad, "There Will Be Blood," and a historical epic set in California's oil boom years will compete for best picture against the melancholy romance "Atonement," the pregnancy comedy "Juno" and the legal drama "Michael Clayton."

"Atonement" and "Michael Clayton" trailed with seven nominations each, including best actor for George Clooney in the title role of "Clayton." The lead players in "Atonement," Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, were shut out on nominations, however, with teenager Saoirse Ronin the only performer nominated for that film, for supporting actress.

Past Oscar winner Cate Blanchett had two nominations as best actress for the historical pageant "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," and the Bob Dylan tale "I'm Not There."

The acting categories generally played out as expected — with a few surprises, including best actress nominee Laura Linney for "The Savages" and best-actor nominee Tommy Lee Jones for "In the Valley of Elah." Neither performance had been high on the awards radar so far this Oscar season.

Best actress looks like a two-person duel between Julie Christie, an Oscar winner for "Darling," as a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's in "Away From Her" and Marion Cotillard as singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose." Both won Golden Globes, Christie for dramatic actress, Cotillard for musical or comedy actress. Yet they face strong competition from Blanchett, Linney and relative newcomer Ellen Page as a whip-smart pregnant teen in "Juno."

Day-Lewis, an Oscar winner for "My Left Foot," grabbed another best-actor nomination as a flamboyant oil baron in "There Will Be Blood," for which he could emerge as the favorite.

Along with Day-Lewis, Clooney and Jones, the other nominees were Johnny Depp, who won the Globe for musical or comedy actor as the vengeful barber in "Sweeney Todd," Viggo Mortensen as a Russian mob member in "Eastern Promises."

With a Golden Globe and universal acclaim for his performance as a relentless killer, Bardem looks like the closest thing to a front-runner this Oscar season, which is unusually wide open for best picture and other top categories.

Bardem is up against Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"; Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"; Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."

Joining Blanchett and Ronin in the supporting actress category were Ruby Dee for "American Gangster," Amy Ryan for "Gone Baby Gone" and Tilda Swinton for "Michael Clayton."

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