Monday, October 30, 2006

Sandra Bullock

One of Hollywood's leading contenders for the coveted title of "America's Sweetheart" in the mid-1990s, the unconventionally beautiful, raven-haired Sandra Bullock first gained widespread attention as Sylvester Stallone's partner in the satirical sci-fi actioner "Demolition Man" (1993). The daughter of a German opera singer mother and an American voice coach father, she began performing on stage as a child extra in her mother's operas. After college, Bullock landed some Off-Broadway roles and a part in the TV-movies "Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman" (NBC, 1989) and "The Preppie Murder" (1989) before nabbing the lead in the short-lived TV sitcom version of "Working Girl" (NBC, 1990).

After snagging the female lead in a small indie "Who Shot Patakango?" (1989), Bullock saw her feature career began to excel. She co-starred in the romantic comedy "Love Potion No. 9" and delivered a superb performance as a cynical feminist artist in "When the Party's Over" (both 1992). "Demolition Man", coupled with her appearance as an aspiring country & western singer in Peter Bogdanovich's ill-fated "The Thing Called Love" (1993), introduced her to a wider audience, paving the way for her first taste of movie stardom as Annie, the reluctant bus driver opposite Keanu Reeves, in the blockbuster "Speed" (1994). Her innate wit, intelligence and general likeability helped elevate what could have been a standard "girl" role, allowing her to drive off with the film's best notices.

In a part originally intended for the overpriced Demi Moore, Bullock headlined the romantic comedy "While You Were Sleeping" (1995), a surprise hit co-starring Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher as the other points of a love triangle. Now a full-fledged movie star, she was equally adept in a Julia Roberts-type role as a hapless computer operator stumbling onto a major conspiracy in "The Net" (1995). Bullock rebounded from the pallid caper comedy "Two If By Sea" (1996, opposite Denis Leary) with a dramatic supporting turn as a law student who finds herself attracted to a married Southern lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) she is assisting in Joel Schumacher's feature version of the John Grisham's best-seller "A Time to Kill" (also 1996). Unfortunately, Richard Attenborough's "In Love and War" (1996), based on the real-life romance between author Ernest Hemingway (Chris O'Donnell) and the nurse he fictionalized in "A Farewell to Arms", proved a disappointment with the actress miscast as the slightly older woman. Equally disappointing was the inevitable (and misguided) sequel "Speed 2: Cruise Control" (1997), which teamed her with Jason Patric on a luxury liner taken over by a madman. Bullock earned a reputation through interviews as a fun-loving type who nonetheless doesn't suffer fools gladly, and her mixture of brazenness and caginess only served to warm the hearts of audiences. Trying to shake the girl-next-door image with which she'd be saddled, she managed to make herself seem even more down-to-earth, still a girl-next-door, but a smart, edgy and witty one.

Bullock wrote, produced, directed and co-starred in (opposite McConaughey who shared producing duties) "Making Sandwiches" (1997), a 40-minute short screened at the Sundance Film Festival. As executive producer of "Hope Floats" (1998), she proved she had an eye for the type of Everywoman role that had earned her kudos in the past. The film garnered generally favorable reviews and generated a respectable box office. Later that year, the actress lent her vocal talents to the character of Miriam in DreamWorks animated biblical tale "The Prince of Egypt" and co-starred with Nicole Kidman as sisters who use witchcraft to solve their romantic problems in "Practical Magic" (which she also co-executive produced). Bullock continued to prove her savvy by teaming with Ben Affleck in the romantic road movie "Forces of Nature" (1999).

While prior and subsequent producing efforts were successful, Bullock and co-star Liam Neeson couldn't save the awkward and unfunny crime comedy "Gun Shy" (2000). She returned to form later that year as a NYC writer and party girl sentenced to "28 Days" of rehab. Here the actress capably portrayed both the often hard-to-watch human weakness as well as humor of her addict character. She next impressed moviegoers (if not many critics) with a turn as a tomboyish streetwise FBI agent posing as a polished beauty queen in the romantic comedy "Miss Congeniality". Paired with Benjamin Bratt, Bullock further proved to be a delightful comedic actress, flaunting her character's newfound grace with the appropriate gracelessness—she revised the role for the 2005 sequel, "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" (2005), this time posing as a Las Vegas showgirl. An active producer and actress, Bullock went forth into the new millennium with many projects on her plate, including strangely appropriate mentions for such iconic heroine roles as Wonder Woman and Lois Lane.

While she didn't play any superheroes, Bullock was very busy for the next few years taking on a variety of roles in rapid succession. In 2002, she starred as a homicide detective in "Murder by Numbers," and as a southern playwright in the film adaptation of "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." She next went back to her romantic comedy roots, starring with Hugh Grant in the underwhelming "Two Weeks Notice" (2002), with the actress playing the aide-de-camp to a reckless mogul who doesn't appreciate the doting care she gives him. At this point in her career, Bullock was entering dangerous Doris Day territory, playing winsome, klutzy roles that were better suited for someone younger. However, her very brief turn in the racially charged, multi-plot drama "Crash" (2005) was a step in the right direction, with Bullock playing a middle aged white L.A. woman of privilege who, after a traumatic carjacking, angrily acts out on all of her worst prejudices and racial fears.

The actress then played To Kill a Mockingbird author Nelle Harper Lee opposite Toby Jones as Truman Capote in the biopic "Infamous" (lensed 2005)--not to be confused with 2005's "Capote" with Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same roles—as they become involved with convicted killer Perry Smith (Mark Ruffalo) in a film based on Gore Vidal's oral biography. Bullock next re-teamed with her "Speed" co-star Keanu Reeves for "The Lake House" (2006), as a doctor and an architecture school dropout who live in the same house two years apart and fall in love via letters they exchange through a mailbox that mysteriously bridges time. She was then set to star opposite Julian McMahon in the thriller "Premonition" (lensed 2006), which follows a housewife whose husband dies in a car crash only to reappear alive the next day.

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