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.
It's very hard to top Michael Jackson, but Lisa Marie Presley seems to think she's done it.
Elvis' daughter, who married Jackson in May 1994 (and divorced him 20 months later), will marry again -- this time to rock singer John Oszajea, her spokesman, Paul Bloch, said Tuesday. The happy couple met in May and became engaged just before Christmas.
The story goes that Oszajea, 25, first went to Presley's mother, Priscilla Presley, to ask for her daughter's hand in marriage. After receiving her blessing, Oszajea formally proposed to Presley, 32.
For those of you keeping track, this will be Lisa's third go with a musician -- first husband Danny Keough, then the Gloved One, now Oszajea (due to release his first album this year).
All this rocker influence is finally rubbing off on her: Lisa Marie's currently recording her first album, as well.
QUICK TAKES: Jim Carrey, who won the best comedy-musical actor Golden Globe for "Man on the Moon", apparently left out a lot of people in his acceptance speech, so he made up for it with an ad in today's Hollywood Reporter. This time, he made sure to thank Andy Kaufman, the late comedian he portrayed, as well as the comic's family. Better late than never ...
...Christian Slater will wed girlfriend Ryan Haddon on Feb. 12, USA Today reports. The two have a 9-month-old son, Jaden Christopher ...
... Ralph Fiennes is angry over the rating slapped on his latest film, "The End of the Affair," by British censors. London's Daily Express quotes Fiennes as expressing concern that the rating (the U.K. equivalent of the NC-17) will scare off older audiences concerned by the (relative) threat of the sex scenes. "It is absurd. ... I don't think the sex in the film is sadistic, abusive or violent. I cannot understand the decision," Fiennes says ...
... Supermodel Naomi Campbell will no longer be strutting her stuff on the catwalk, specifically the ones in New York and London. The 29-year-old British beauty finds her schedule "very stressful" and says she would like to cut back. But rest assured: Campbell says she hasn't decided what to do about the Milan catwalk. We wait with baited breath ...
AILING: "Ally McBeal" star Lisa Nicole Carson, who plays Ally's feisty roommate Renée Radick, is recovering at home after a two-week hospital stay for treatment of an undisclosed medical condition, reps for the hit Fox show say. Carson, 30, was discharged earlier this week, but at the request of the actress' family, details of her medical condition are being kept private. Her character had been absent from "Ally McBeal" the past few weeks, but Carson plans to return once she's recovered ...
... Rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, 64, was hospitalized for an allergic reaction to a drug administered after cutting his finger, his father said Tuesday. The singer, best known for the song "Great Balls of Fire," cut his finger with a knife at his home in Nesbitt, Miss., and was taken to an unidentified Memphis hospital. Lewis' reaction was a result of shots given to kill his pain and treat infection, and he was then taken to Methodist Central Hospital in Memphis, where officials refused to release information on his condition. ...
"GREEN" SMILE: Michael Clarke Duncan, the Golden Globe-nominated actor from "The Green Mile," has been named ShoWest's Male Star of Tomorrow. The National Association of Theater Owners will hand Duncan the honors during its convention March 6-9 in Las Vegas. Previous winners include Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Johnny Depp.
Of course, the honor also has gone to the likes of football player-turned-actor-turned-sportscaster Howie Long, whose first headlining film, "Firestorm," went up in smoke.
In other ShoWest news, composer John Williams is set to be honored with the convention's first Maestro Award. Williams, if you don't know, recently composed "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" and "Angela's Ashes."
PUDDING HEADS: Billy Crystal and Jamie Lee Curtis have been named this year's recipients of Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Man and Woman of the Year awards. No, they won't be sampling Jell-O for the masses. Rather, Curtis, 41, will lead a parade through Harvard Square on Feb. 10, and Crystal, 52, will wear a bra and wig at a roast in his honor Feb. 17. The awards are a tradition of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Organization, which counts male students dressed in drag among its members. Previous winners include Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan.
OSCAR WATCH: Defending Oscar champs Steven Spielberg and Gwyneth Paltrow have been confirmed as presenters for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards on March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. "Double Jeopardy" heroine Ashley Judd and "Anna and the King" star Chow Yun-Fat are also set to present.
But, frankly, we're more excited about the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 12 because award-show ham Roberto Benigni will be presenting the statue for Outstanding Female Lead Film Performance. Look for Benigni to make an Oscar appearance, too. Like Spielberg and Paltrow, he, too, is a defending champ. Albeit, a more effusive one.