At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Top Story: Paris Hilton Videotape Leaked
Paris Hilton, heir to the Hilton hotel fortune and star of Fox's upcoming reality series The Simple Life, is trying to stop the distribution of a homemade video that reportedly features her having sex with Rick Solomon, who went on to marry former Charmed star Shannen Doherty in 2002. Hilton's spokesperson Siri Garber told The Associated Press the tape was made three years ago while Solomon and Hilton were dating. "Not everybody indulges in that, but couples do it sometimes and it's just for themselves, for fun. She never intended for it to be seen by anybody other than the two of them," Garber said. An unidentified person reportedly distributed the video to some gossip columnists and Hilton's lawyers are trying to determine whether Solomon, 33, was involved in releasing the tape. Solomon, who owns a clothing and DVD company that distributes amateur party videos of scantily clad women, has supposedly split with Doherty but the status of their relationship is unclear, the AP reports.
LAPD Fires Celeb-Tracking Officer
The Los Angeles Police Department has fired a police officer who used department computers to review confidential records on celebrities, including Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston and Dylan McDermott, the AP reports. Officer Kelly Chrisman, who was fired Oct. 27, said his superiors assigned him to look up the information as part of a project to map celebrity homes to help monitor potential stalkers, but the LAPD says no such project existed. Investigators say they do not know what Chrisman, 35, did with the information he accessed between 1994 and 2000.
Critics of Gibson's Passion Harassed
Two scholars who have criticized Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ said Thursday they have received hate mail in response to their comments. According to the AP, Sister Mary Boys, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and Paula Fredriksen, a Boston University professor, have received hateful e-mails from Gibson supporters. The women made the comments at a panel discussion about the film, which centers on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, at a national meeting of the Anti-Defamation League. The Passion of Christ is set for release Feb. 25.
Fox Releases Alien Quadrilogy
Twentieth Century Fox announced it will release Alien Quadrilogy, a boxed set of all four of director Ridley's Scott's Alien installments, on Dec. 2. According to Variety, the 9-disc set, priced at $99.98, contains the theatrical editions of all four movies in the series, including the theatrical version of Aliens, which has never been released on DVD before. Extras include nearly 45 hours of bonus features, directors' cuts of three of the movies and a restored "pre-release" version of Alien3. Double-disc DVD sets of each film will be sold separately beginning Jan. 6 for $26.98 each.
CBS Sings Hilary Duff
CBS has signed a comedy pilot deal with 16-year-old Lizzie McGuire star Hilary Duff and will develop a starring vehicle for the young actress for the 2004-05 season, Reuters reports. Disney's Lizzie McGuire wrapped production in July 2002 but Duff and her representatives had a public falling-out with the Mouse House after the two sides could not come to terms over a proposed sequel to The Lizzie McGuire Movie. CBS views signing Duff, who starts a national concert tour later this month to support her solo debut album, Metamorphosis, as an opportunity to cater to younger viewers.
VH-1 Updating Partridge Family
Music cabler VH-1 is planning an updated version of the 1970s sitcom The Partridge Family, which ran on ABC from 1970-74. According to The Hollywood Reporter Sony Pictures Television, which holds rights to the show about a musical family, will produce a reality series for VH-1 chronicling the casting of the family as well as a scripted half-hour pilot featuring the winners. No production date has been set, but the network is aiming to make it a tentpole of its 2004 schedule.
Timberlake Wins Big at MTV Europe Awards
Justin Timberlake was the big winner Thursday night at the MTV Europe Awards, walking away with three top prizes, including best male, best pop and best album for his debut album Justified. Christina Aguilera, who hosted the awards ceremony, was named best female artist. Other winners included Jamaican dancehall reggae sensation Sean Paul, who was named best new act of the year, and Beyoncé, who took the best R&B award, while MTV viewers voted her single "Crazy in Love" best song of the year.
Role Call: Jackson, Arquette, Hershey, Christensen Set for King Thriller
Jonathan Jackson, David Arquette, Barbara Hershey and Erika Christensen have been set to star in Riding the Bullet, an adaptation of the Stephen King e-book, for writer/director Mick Garris, Variety reports. Set on Halloween in 1969, the supernatural thriller follows a 21-year-old New England college student (Jackson), who attempts suicide after his girlfriend (Christensen) breaks up with him. But when he learns that his mother (Hershey) has had a stroke, he hitchhikes through rural Maine to visit her bedside, and is picked up by a mysterious driver (Arquette).
Teen idols including Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, Brittany Murphy, Ryan Seacrest, Colin Farrell, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Hilary Duff and Tony Hawk were on hand for this year's Teen Choice Awards Saturday at the Universal Amphitheater in Universal City, Calif.
Making his first public appearance in two weeks was Los Angeles star Laker Kobe Bryant, who was not expected at the event after being formally charged with felony sexual assault against a 19-year-old woman who worked at an exclusive resort hotel in Eagle, Colo., on July 18.
Accompanied by his wife, Vanessa, Bryant flashed a thumbs-up and peace sign at fans but did not talk to reporters before going into the show, where he received best male athlete honors. This was Bryant's fourth win in five years. The Los Angeles Lakers are the only professional sports team to have members who have won this award, with Shaquille O'Neal taking the honor in 2001.
Other highlights of the night include Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Gellar, who won for best TV actress in a drama. This was her fourth win in five years in this category and ninth win overall--more than any other female.
Best hissy fit went Saturday Night Live alum Adam Sandler--his fifth award overall in five years--for his role in the big-screen comedy Anger Management.
In TV highlights, the WB drama 7th Heaven, which revolves around a Christian family and the issues they encounter, also received its third consecutive win as best TV drama. The series, now in its eighth season, stars Stephen Collins, Catherine Hicks, David Gallagher, Beverly Mitchell and Mackenzie Rosman.
Kutcher, however, was the night's big winner. He won best actor in a TV comedy for his role as Kelso in That '70s Show, best reality host for his MTV prankster series Punk'd and the coveted "male hottie" award.
The David Spade-hosted telecast will air Aug. 6 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Choice Movie, Drama: The Matrix Reloaded
Choice Movie Actor, Comedy: Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty)
Choice Movie Actress, Comedy : Queen Latifah (Bringing Down the House)
Choice Movie Villain: Colin Farrell (Daredevil)
Choice Movie Hissy Fit : Adam Sandler (Anger Management)
Choice Breakout Female Movie Star: Hilary Duff (The Lizzie McGuire Movie)
Choice TV Drama:7th Heaven
Choice TV Breakout Show: 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter
Choice TV Actor, Comedy: Ashton Kutcher (That '70s Show)
Choice TV Actor, Drama: David Gallagher (7th Heaven)
Choice TV Actress, Drama: Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Choice TV Sidekick: Wilmer Valderrama (That '70s Show)
Breakout Male TV Star: George Stults (7th Heaven)
Breakout Female TV Star: Kaley Cuoco (8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter)
Choice TV Reality Show: American Idol
Choice Reality/Variety Host: Ashton Kutcher (Punk'd)
Choice TV Reality Babe: Paula Abdul (American Idol)
Choice TV Reality Hunk: Ashton Kutcher (Punk'd)
Choice Greatest TV Reality Moment: Justin Timberlake's tax repossession (Punk'd)
Choice Grossest TV Reality Moment: Eating squid guts (Fear Factor)
Choice Scariest Reality Moment: Ruben Studdard in the bottom two (American Idol)
Choice Music Female Artist: Kelly Clarkson
Choice Music Rock Track: "Bring Me To Life" (Evanescence)
Choice Male Hottie: Ashton Kutcher
Choice Male Athlete: Kobe Bryant
Choice Comedian: Jim Carrey
Choice Male Fashion Icon: Ryan Seacrest
The 2003 Teen Choice Awards is executive produced by Bob Bain (The Billboard Music Awards) and Mike Burg. Paul Flattery and Michael Levitt serve as producers. Greg Sills serves as supervising producer.