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.
Dawn (Jess Weixler) has grown up in the shadows of two giant nuclear power plant towers in a suburban American town and as she reaches the ripe age of sexual maturity she discovers that there are teeth in her nether regions. That kind of explains why her stepbrother Brad (John Hensley) has this love/hate relationship with her because as a child his hands wandered where they shouldn't have and he was bitten on his finger. Brad has grown up to be a tattooed sex renegade while Dawn has joined the teen abstinence movement The Promise and is one of their featured speakers. One of the Dawn falls for one of the Promise guys Tobey (Hale Appleman) as they try to resist their teenage passions for each other--to no avail. Yeah it isn’t pretty. Soon Dawn asks a gynecologist Dr. Godfrey (Josh Pais) to check her with equally devastating results. Can Dawn have a sex life without emasculating her admirers? Only the brave dare try. The cast of young actors is relatively unknown partly because director (and former actor) Mitchell Lichtenstein said it was hard to convince any actor to take the part. The girls would have the stigma of being "that girl" with the strange problem and the guys would--for the most part--be known for having their most private parts bitten off. Nevertheless Weixler does an astounding job taking a chance after her stint on daytime soap One Life to Live and a few other minor movie roles. Blonde innocent and with a quirkiness much like Anna Faris in the Scary Movie films Weixler is delightful. She plays Dawn like a bewildered superhero rather than a hapless victim. Likewise Appleman as the good-looking all-American horny teen is quite likable and Pais as the creepy gynecologist is completely hysterical. The guy who steals the show as complete creep however is Hensley (TV’s Nip/Tuck and The Sopranos). He's so evil when he finally gets his remarkable comeuppance (one that you'll talk about for a long time) cheers of approval and groans of disgust will most likely come from the audience. Writer/director Lichtenstein who you might remember from Ang Lee's Wedding Banquet deftly mixes horror and comedy within Teeth. The film is at once dark and frightening as well as being hysterically funny without turning campy. It’s a tall order to fill especially when dealing with a myth that has spanned ancient cultures worldwide and pits guys against their deep dark subconscious fears of castration but Lichtenstein crafts the story by incorporating other teen concerns such as the censoring of drawings of the female anatomy in high school science books and the movement by some teens to pledge themselves to stay virtuous until marriage. The director also knows how to push his actors into dark and uncomfortably humorous situations. All woven together Teeth is a comedic cautionary safe sex tale.
Sean Combs premiered his new collection of men's underwear, pajamas and robes on Wednesday at Bloomingdale's, Reuters reports. Sean John Loungewear has been available at Bloomingdale's for less than two weeks and is selling well, the store's fashion director Kal Ruttenstein said.
Singer Stevie Nicks has postponed two concerts at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles to undergo treatment for severe bronchitis, The Associated Press reports. The two shows will be rescheduled at a later date. Nicks expects to return to her "Trouble in Shangri-La Tour" in Las Vegas Saturday if she responds well to medication.
French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo was released from the hospital Wednesday after making what doctors call a remarkable recovery, according to Reuters. Belmondo was admitted to Saint Joseph's hospital in Paris two weeks ago after suffering from a stroke while vacationing on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Belmondo, 68, starred in Jean-Luc Goddard's 1960 film Breathless.
Raymond E. Scott, the co-owner of Source magazine, was arrested one day after the Source Hip Hop Music Awards in Miami Beach, AP reports. According to police, Scott was arrested Tuesday and charged with reckless driving, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, driving with a suspended license and possession of marijuana. Police stopped Scott for speeding and say he became verbally abusive with the officer who ordered him out of the car. Source CEO David Mays reportedly tried to pressure police to drop the charges by threatening to tear up the city and call Jesse Jackson. A spokeswoman for the magazine said a statement would be released Thursday.
Rapper Nate Dogg was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine after pleading no contest to a charge of possessing an unmarked firearm, AP reports. The rapper, whose real name is Nathaniel Dawayne Hale, was arrested on June 18, 2000, for allegedly kidnapping his girlfriend, holding her against her will, assaulting her and setting a car on fire. The charges were later dismissed at a preliminary hearing.
Actor Roy Scheider could face possible jail time if he fails to appear at his next hearing scheduled in a few weeks, according to PageSix.com. Scheider owes his ex-wife Cynthia nearly $1.4 million in payments stipulated by their 1989 divorce agreement. Scheider and his lawyer Samuel Sharp failed to show up for a hearing last Thursday at the Central Islip, Long Island, courthouse. Sharp reportedly called the courthouse minutes before the hearing, claiming he was stuck in traffic. But when Judge Morton I. Willen called the Nassau and Suffolk County highway patrols, he was told that traffic on the Long Island Expressway was running smoothly. The judge warned Sharp that his stall tactics were intolerable and said that the lawyer could face jail time if he failed to show at the next hearing.
State regulators have proposed fines of nearly $59,000 against Sony Pictures for an accident resulting in the death of a welder Tim Holcombe on the set of Spider-Man, Variety reports. Hale died on Mar. 6 after he was struck in the head when a boom extension fell onto the aerial basket in which he was working. The California Division of Occupational Safety & Health said that Sony owned Columbia Pictures failed to use good engineering practices and that the capacity, operation and maintenance instruction plate had not been changed according to specifications. They also allege that Holcombe did not have adequate fall protection, such as a safety harness. The studio has until Sept. 6 to file an appeal.
The British media is having a field day over Mick Jagger's appearance Thursday on the cover of Britain's Saga Magazine, a publication aimed at people over the age of 50, Reuters reports. Jagger is promoting the new film Enigma, which he produced along with Lorne Michaels. The film is set in 1943, the same year that Jagger was born. Saga editor Paul Bach thought it would be a perfect subject for his readers. The Rolling Stones singer, once known as the wild man of rock 'n' roll, is reportedly dating 23-year-old model Sophie Dahl.
Michael Crawford is returning to Broadway with Dance of the Vampires, Variety reports. The show, which will open on April 11 at the Minskoff Theater, is based on Roman Polanski's 1967 movie The Fearless Vampire Killers. The musical premiered in Vienna four years ago and was directed by Polanski, but show organizers were unable to get the director back into the United States to work on the play. Polanski fled the country in 1977 when facing charges of statutory rape. Crawford, who starred in The Phantom of the Opera for 14 years, has committed to the show for one year in New York.
Tony Danza will host the Miss America Pageant, becoming the first solo male to host the event since Bert Parks in 1980, Reuters reports. Parks died in 1992 and hosted the pageant for 25 years. Danza will replace Donny and Marie Osmond, who have been emceeing the event for the past two years. The Miss America Pageant organizers are trying to boost ratings and appeal to viewers by incorporating elements of reality TV shows and have also added a game show segment.
George Michael has returned the piano used by John Lennon to record the song Imagine to the Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool, AP reports. Michael bought the 31-year-old piano at an auction last year for $2 million. At the time, the pop star said that the instrument should be seen by people rather than protected in storage somewhere. But Michael first wanted to use the piano to record a song on his next album. Lennon, who bought the piano in 1970, was killed in New York City more than 20 years ago.
Eric McCormack and Debra Messing from NBC's Will & Grace have been added to the presenters list for the 53rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards, according toVariety. Other presenters include Kelsey Grammer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sela Ward, Martin Sheen, Jessica Alba, Michael Michele and Amy Brenneman.
A year ago, five unknown guys from Orlando, Fla., went to the Sundance Film Festival with a cheap movie, a neato gimmick and a good publicist.
Today they return to Park City, Utah, as Hollywood players -- the creators of what might become the biggest horror film franchise ever -- and as bona fide filmmakers afforded multimillion-dollar budgets.
Their film cost $10,000 to $100,000, depending on what you read. They sold it for $1 million. It made $140 million in theaters. Maybe you've heard of it: "The Blair Witch Project."
Hands down, the "Haxan Five," as they like to call themselves (Get it? It rhymes with "Jackson Five") are the biggest rags-to-riches story ever to come out of Sundance. Sure, other nickel-and-dime neophytes such as Kevin Smith and Edward Burns have received more critical praise. But none of those guys launched a commercial juggernaut like "Blair Witch," which left most of last year's major studio films in the dust. If not for the festival, the phenomenon may have forever remained a figment of their fertile imaginations.
"Everything hinged on us getting into Sundance," Daniel Myrick, who co-wrote and directed the movie with partner Eduardo Sanchez, told the Dallas Morning News last year. "It's such a validation for our sort of filmmaking. It's like winning the lottery.
"We have these bongos in our office that we beat whenever something good happens. The day we were picked, we partied and beat on those drums all night. Now, we're living the dream, man."
How's tricks nowadays with Myrick, Sanchez and their producers, Gregg Hale, Mike Monello and Robin Cowie? Not bad at all.
This spring, they are set to begin filming their first post-"Witch" feature, a comedy called "Heat of Love" for Artisan. Earlier this month, they signed a big deal with Artisan in which Sanchez and Myrick will executive produce "Blair Witch 2," to be directed by veteran documentarian Joe Berlinger, and they will write and direct a third installment, a "Blair Witch" prequel, set for release in fall 2001. Both the sequel and prequel will be budgeted in the $7 million to $10 million range.
Add to that all their talk show appearances, magazine interviews, the merchandising (including a hugely hyped pre-Halloween home video release, a video game version of the movie, books, etc.), and a TV show in development at Fox, it's been quite a year. Their schedules are so full, they couldn't (or wouldn't) be interviewed for this article (their publicist apologized).
"I think in terms of money, 'Blair Witch' is the most successful movie to come out of Sundance. There's not anything that comes close," says John Anderson, chief film critic for Newsday in New York and author of the book "Sundancing: Hanging Out and Listening in at America's Most Important Film Festival" (Spike Publishing).
But now that Sanchez, Myrick, et. al. are players, the player-haters will inevitably come out of the woodwork. It's already started: After receiving a big buzz-bounce out of Sundance last year, "Blair Witch" was greeted with mostly favorable reviews as critics praised it as an anti-film, a horror original. But as the film became a phenomenon, detractors appeared, saying, "it's not scary," "it's cheap-looking" or "stop shaking the camera already, you're giving me a migraine."
"The reaction was kind of funny," Anderson says. "Almost as soon as it started making money, people turned on it. There's always this perverse critical reaction when something becomes too popular, but you have to admit it had one of the great marketing plans, both by the filmmakers and by Artisan."
That marketing plan began back in 1997, when Sanchez and Myrick succeeded in getting snippets from "Blair Witch," then a work-in-progress, onto indie film guru John Pierson's cable TV show "Split Screen." From the beginning, the project was presented as if it were a true-to-life documentary, and the filmmakers neither confirmed nor denied its authenticity. To maintain a veil of mystery, they made sure the film's three actors, who portray the film crew lost in a haunted Maryland woods, didn't speak to the media until after the film was released theatrically in July.
The actors, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams, who lent their real names to their characters, have also fared well in the wake of the film's box-office bonanza. All three were complete unknowns beforehand -- they didn't even have SAG cards -- but they spent last summer making promo appearances on Jay Leno, the MTV Movie Awards and other gigs. Now they all live in Los Angeles and have agents.
Leonard has enjoyed the most immediate big-time success, recently landing a part in "Navy Divers," a mainstream Hollywood flick with Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr. He also worked on a low-budget film, "City of Bars," which was shot last year in San Francisco. Not bad for a guy whose resume previously boasted of a few films most have never heard of and stage work at the Seattle Fringe Festival.
Donahue, whose credits included stage work in New York, is now auditioning for films and spends time camping in the California mountains, an interest she developed while working on "Blair Witch." And Williams is also passing out headshots in Hollywood, having moved to the area last year after getting married. He also has diffused a longstanding rumor that he once played minor league baseball in the Yankees farm system.
What's next? Many filmmakers who hit pay dirt the first time out suffer a sophomore jinx, and the industry will surely be watching to see if the Haxan guys sink or swim with their new comedy. Will it be funny? Will it be in focus? Will there be lots of rocks and twigs?
The Haxan guys are being familiarly coy about "Heat of Love," which they have described as "'It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World' meets Ruth Buzzi and Erik Estrada."
"Whatever they do next, they're going to have to try extra hard to get over the hump," Anderson adds. "A lot of people feel like they were snookered by 'Blair Witch' because they [Sanchez and Myrick] were so cagey about the origins of the footage.
"Mainstream narrative filmmaking is a whole new ball game for them. There's no reason to think that they'll be better at it than anybody else. They caught lightning in a bottle the first time out."