Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
For a film that involves a love triangle, mental illness, a Bohemian colony of free-spirits, an impending war and several important historical figures, the most exciting elements of Summer in February are the stunning shots of the English country and Cornish seaside. The rest of the film never quite lives up to the crashing waves and sun-dappled meadows that are used to bookend the scenes, as the entertaining opening never manages to coalesce into a story that lives up the the cinematography, let alone the lives of the people that inspired it.
Set in an Edwardian artist’s colony in Cornwall, Summer in February tells the story of A.J. Munnings (Dominic Cooper), who went on to become one of the most famous painters of his day and head of the Royal Academy of Art, his best friend, estate agent and part-time soldier Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens), and the woman whom they both loved, aspiring artist Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning). Her marriage to Munnings was an extremely unhappy one, and she attempted suicide on their honeymoon, before killing herself in 1914. According to his journals, Gilbert and Florence were madly in love, although her marriage and his service in the army kept them apart.
When the film begins, Munnings is the center of attention in the Lamorna Artist's Colony, dramatically reciting poetry at parties and charming his way out of his bar tab while everyone around him proclaims him to be a genius. When he’s not drinking or painting, he’s riding horses with Gilbert, who has the relatively thankless task of keeping this group of Bohemians in line. Their idyllic existence is disrupted by the arrival of Florence, who has run away from her overbearing father and the fiancé he had picked out for her in order to become a painter.
Stevens and Browning both start the film solidly, with enough chemistry between them to make their infatuation interesting. He manages to give Gilbert enough dependable charm to win over both Florence and the audience, and she presents Florence as someone with enough spunk and self-possession to go after what she wants. Browning’s scenes with Munnings are equally entertaining in the first third of the film, as she can clearly see straight through all of his bravado and he is intrigued by her and how difficult she is to impress. Unfortunately, while the basis of the love triangle is well-established and entertaining, it takes a sudden turn into nothing with a surprise proposal from Munnings.
Neither the film nor Browning ever make it clear why Florence accepts his proposal, especially when they have both taken great pains to establish that she doesn’t care much for him. But once she does, the films stalls, and both Stevens and Browning spend the rest of the film doing little more than staring moodily and longingly at the people around them. The real-life Florence was plagued by depression and mental instability, but neither the film nor Browning’s performance ever manage to do more than give the subtlest hint at that darkness. On a few occasions, Browning does manage to portray a genuine anguish, but rather than producing any sympathy from the audience, it simply conjures up images of a different film, one that focused more on Florence, and the difficulties of being a woman with a mental illness at a time when both were ignored or misunderstood.
Stevens is fine, and Gilbert starts out with the same kind of good-guy appeal the won the heart of Mary Crawley and Downton Abbey fans the world over. However, once the film stalls, so does his performance, and he quickly drops everything that made the character attractive or interesting in favor of longing looks and long stretches of inactivity. He does portray a convincing amount of adoration for Florence, although that's about the only real emotion that Gilbert expresses for the vast majority of the film, and even during his love scene, he never manages to give him any amount of passion.
Cooper does his best with what he’s given, and tries his hardest to imbue the film with some substance and drama. His Munnings is by turns charming, brash, and brooding, the kind of person who has been told all of their life that they are special, and believes it. He even manages to give the character some depth, and even though he and Browning have very little chemistry, he manages to convey a genuine affection for her. It’s a shame that Munnings becomes such a deeply unlikable character, because Cooper is the only thing giving Summer in February a jolt of life – even if it comes via bursts of thinly-explained hostility. It's hard to watch just how hard he's working to connect with his co-stars and add some excitement to a lifeless script and not wish that he had a better film to show off his talents in.
Unfortunately, by the time Florence and Gilbert are finally spurred into activity, the film has dragged on for so long that you’re no longer invested in the characters, their pain, or their love story, even if you want to be. Which is the real disappointment of Summer in February; underneath the stalled plot and the relatively one-note acting, there are glimmers of a fascinating and compelling story that’s never allowed to come to the forefront.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
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.
Box office figures were Served this Super Bowl weekend.
The youthful hip-hop dance film You Got Served, starring the defunct boy band B2K, took the top spot with $16 million*, knocking last week's champ, the Ashton Kutcher thriller The Butterfly Effect, down to the third spot with $9.9 million.
"[You Got Served] is one of those movies that flies beneath the radar, then suddenly, it's at No. 1," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press. "It just shows when you go after that teen audience, it's an audience that definitely has power."
Second place belonged to the raucous romantic comedy Along Came Polly, which took in a decent $10 million, while the regal The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King came in fourth with $5.2 million.
Rounding out the top five was another newcomer, the SAT heist flick The Perfect Score with $5 million, while the other heist flick opening this week, The Big Bounce, failed to make it to the top 10, scraping by with a measly $3.3 million.
With the Academy Award nominations announced on Tues. Jan. 27, the box office also saw a few familiar faces return in re-release, including Best Picture nominees Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which earned $2.3 million in 1,118 theaters, and Lost in Translation, which grossed $2.1 million in 632 theaters. Both joined Mystic River, which expanded last week. The indie drama Monster, which stars Best Actress nominee Charlize Theron, also saw a 49 percent jump, with a healthy $3 million in 668 theaters.
The overall Super Bowl weekend figures of $75.2 million, were slightly down, 5.93 percent, from the same Super Bowl weekend last year (which came a week earlier), at $79.9 million.
THE TOP TEN
Screen Gems' PG-13 rated hip-hoppin' You Got Served opened in the No. 1 slot with an ESTIMATED $16 million, which comes somewhat as a surprise since it only opened in 1,933 theaters. Still, its $8,277 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this week.
The former boy band B2K hits the big screen as an urban dance crew competing for a big cash prize.
Directed by Chris Stokes, it stars Marques Houston, Omarion, Jarell "J-Booq" Houston and Dreux "Lil Fizz" Frederic.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Along Came Polly stayed in second place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10 million (-38%) in 3,052 theaters (+57 theaters; $3,300 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.7 million.
Directed by John Hamburg, it stars Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Debra Messing.
Last week's champ, New Line Cinema's R rated supernatural drama The Butterfly Effect, dropped to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.9 million (-42%) in 2,605 theaters (unchanged; $3,820 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.4 million.
Directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, it stars Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Elden Henson and Ethan Suplee.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King actually moved up a spot to fourth in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-22%) at 2,556 theaters (-302 theaters; $2,338 per theater). Its cume is approximately $345.2 million.
Directed by Peter Jackson, it stars Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated dramedy The Perfect Score opened in fifth place, scoring $5 million in 2,208 theaters with a $2,264 per theater average.
A group of high school seniors conspire to steal the answers to the SAT test.
Directed by Brian Robbins, it stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen, Bryan Greenberg and Leonardo Nam.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony's PG-13 rated drama Big Fish dropped two notches to fourth place in its eighth week with an ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-35%) in 2,280 theaters (-158 theaters; $2,018 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.3 million.
Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter and Alison Lohman.
Miramax Films' R rated Civil War drama Cold Mountain held on to seventh place in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-9%) at 2,500 theaters (-302; $1,813 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $78.8 million.
Directed by Anthony Minghella, it stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger.
Dropping considerably, DreamWorks' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! came in at No. 8 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-39%) in 2,808 theaters (+97; $1,603 per theater). Its cume is approximately $13.4 million.
Directed by Robert Luketic, it stars Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel and Topher Grace.
Warner Bros.' dramatic R rated Mystic River moved up a spot to ninth place since expanding to more theaters last week with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (+31%) at 1,370 theaters (+43 theaters; $3,215 per theater). Its cume is approximately $64.8 million.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG rated family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen rounded out the top 10 in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-36%) in 2,396 theaters (-416 theaters; $1,711 per theater). Its cume is approximately $127.8 million.
Directed by Shawn Levy, it stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff and Tom Welling.
Warner Bros. PG-13 rated Hawaiian heist caper The Big Bounce didn't have much spring in its step in its opening weekend, taking in an ESTIMATED $3.3 million in 2,304 theaters with a $1,439 per theater average.
Directed by George Armitage, it stars Owen Wilson, Charlie Sheen, Morgan Freeman, Sara Foster and Gary Sinise.
This week, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $75.2 million, down 8.75 percent from last week's $82.4 million, as well as down 19.65 percent from last year's $93.6 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's PG-13 rated The Recruit debuted at the No. 1 spot with $16.3 million at 2,376 theaters with a $6,861 per theater average; New Line Cinema's R rated horror sequel Final Destination 2 opened in second with $16 million in 2,834 theaters with a $5,652 per theater average; and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated actioner Biker Boyz premiered in third with $10 million in 1,766 theaters with a $5,723 per theater average.