The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
In those rare incidences a sequel can actually be better than the original. Such is the case with X2: X-Men United where this time around the X-Men--including mind-benders Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen); optically enhanced Scott/Cyclops (James Marsden); weather controller Storm (Halle Berry); Rogue (Anna Paquin) aptly named newcomers Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and John/Pyro (Aaron Stanford); and last but not least the hunky yet steely Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)--have their work cut out for them trying to keep the peace between the human and mutant races. After a teleporting mutant assailant known as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attacks the White House relations between mutants and humans take a turn for the worse starting an anti-mutant movement. The movement is fueled by baddie scientist William Stryker (Brian Cox) who bears a grudge against mutants and his henchwoman Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) both of whom have a mysterious connection to Wolverine's past. They seek to wipe out all the mutants on Earth by manipulating Xavier and his all-powerful machine Cerebro--a machine that can locate and even destroy every mutant and/or human on the planet in mere moments using mind power. Stryker is in for a fight though. Militant mutants the iron-clad Magneto (Ian McKellen) and morph-happy Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) join forces with the X-Men to stop this madman--but of course they have their own agendas. Can the X-Men repair the rift in mutant/human co-existence? Or is war imminent? Guess we'll have to wait until X3.
X2 does a nice job giving its comic book heroes and villains more of an emotional core than in the first X-Men. The relationships have deepened and are further explored with Jackman's haunted Logan/Wolverine looking for clues to his past still a standout. Janssen another standout gets more to chew on as Jean whose triangle with Logan and Scott grows more complicated and her character arc takes a surprising turn. But will somebody please write Halle Berry out of this franchise? They say her blonde wig was improved for the sequel but it's as unbelievable as her acting. As for the kids Paquin and Ashmore sweetly play out Rogue and Bobby's budding love story but its Stanford's sullen John who holds the most interest as you see his resentment toward humans growing and luring him to the dark side. In the villains' corner Cox plays Stryker as stonily evil as he can while Romijn-Stamos seems to have a lot more fun as the ultra-cool Mystique even getting to shed the blue paint in one scene and simply use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. Cumming too seems to enjoy being blue as the bible quoting German-accented Nightcrawler who really isn't so bad after all (and has one of the snazzier entrances in the movie). But the most compelling relationship by far has to be between Xavier and Magneto. British thesps Stewart and McKellen portray the two as the old friends they are but whose disparaging views on how mutants and humans should interact has torn them apart giving the film some dramatic weight.
With the original X-Men director Bryan Singer had the dubious task of introducing all of the Marvel comic book's attributes and characters in a way that would appease rabid fans and newbies while also creating a compelling movie with a beginning middle and end. The result was adequate but a tad muddled and cartoonish. With X2 however Singer is able to fine-tune those characters and delve further into the story's universal theme: ridding the world of xenophobia and creating a peaceful co-existence. The three-tiered points of view--from Magneto's defiantly anti-human stance to Stryker's anti-mutant attempts at genocide and Xavier's hopes to find a happy middle ground--parallels today's political climate and actually makes you ponder the world's affairs even while you are watching the very cool very mutant-esque action. X2 leaves you wanting more to find out what is going to happen next to these people. Honestly if there is a war between mutants and humans who do you think is going to win? If only I could use powers of telepathy…
Colin Farrell's Phone Booth sniped the competition by ringing in $15 million* and debuting at the top of the box office this weekend.
The hit-man thriller thwarted newcomers What a Girl Wants, which came in second with $12 million, and A Man Apart, which followed in third with $11.1 million.
The Chris Rock comedy Head of State, last week's No. 1 film, fell to fourth place with $8.8 million, while the Queen Latifah/Steve Martin laffer Bringing Down the House rounded out the Top Five with $8.5 million.
Box office numbers, however, were still down considerably from this time last year. It was the fourth straight weekend that revenues have shown a decline. And while studio executives blame the war in Iraq for the dwindling box office figures, analysts say movie choices this year have generally been weaker than the first part of 2002, when Ice Age, Blade II, John Q and The Panic Room opened to bigger numbers.
"The fact that it's down four weekends in a row, everybody says, hey, this has to do with the war and people's moods," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press. "But no matter what the mood of the country, if there are good movies out there, people will want to go see them."
THE TOP TEN
Twentieth Century Fox's new R-rated sniper thriller Phone Booth shot to the top of the chart this weekend with an ESTIMATED $15 million at 2,481 theaters. Its $6,056 per theater average was the highest of any wide release playing this week.
The film revolves around a New York City media consultant who answers a ringing phone in a phone booth and finds himself trapped after being told by a caller--a serial killer with a sniper rifle--that he'll be shot dead if he hangs up.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker.
Warner Brother's PG rated 'tween pic What a Girl Wants debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $12 million at 2,964 theaters ($4,069 per theater).
The film follows a young American girl who heads to London in hopes of meeting the father she's never known, a high-profile politician.
Directed by Dennie Gordon, it stars Amanda Bynes, Kelly Preston and Colin Firth.
New Line Cinema's new R-rated cop drama A Man Apart opened third with an ESTIMATED $11.5 million at 2,459 theaters ($4,534 per theater).
In the film, a U.S. narcotics cop takes on a Tijuana drug cartel to get retribution for the murder of his wife.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it stars Vin Diesel and Larenz Tate.
DreamWorks' PG-13 political comedy Head of State fell from No. 1 to No. 4 in its second week of release with an ESTIMATED $8.8 million (-35%) at 2,155 theaters (+4 theaters, $4,084 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.3 million.
Directed by and starring Chris Rock, the film also stars Bernie Mac, Lynn Whitfield, Robin Givens and Tamala Jones.
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated jailbreak comedy Bringing Down the House dropped from second to fifth place in its fifth week of release with an ESTIMATED $8.5 million (-32%) at 2,910 theaters (unchanged, $2,921 per theater). Its cume is approximately $111.3 million.
Directed by Adam Shankman, it stars Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 sci-fi thriller The Core, fell three notches to sixth place in its second week of release with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-48%) at 3,019 (+2 theaters, $2087 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20.9 million.
Directed by Jon Amiel, it stars Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, D.J. Qualls and Tcheky Karyo.
Sony Pictures' R-rated Basic dropped three pegs to seventh with an ESTIMATED $5.4 million (-53%) at 2,876 theaters (+ 2 theaters, $1,878 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20 million.
Directed by John McTiernan, it stars John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Connie Nielsen.
In its 15th week of release, Miramax's PG-13 rated musical Chicago continued as a mainstay in the Top Ten, dropping from fifth to eighth place with an ESTIMATED $5.3 million (-26%) at 2,395 theaters (-306 theaters, $2,219 per theater). Its cume is approximately $152.1 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
MGM's PG-rated Agent Cody Banks fell from seventh to ninth place in its fourth week of release with an ESTIMATED $3.7 million (-42%) at 2,331 theaters (-455 theaters, $1,587 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $40 million.
Directed by Harald Zwart, it stars Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff and Angie Harmon.
Rounding out the Top Ten is Buena Vista's G-rated animated feature Piglet's Big Movie, which dropped two positions in its third week of release with an ESTIMATED $3 million (-39%) at 2,084 theaters (-63 theaters, $1,484 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $17 million.
Directed by Francis Glebas, it features the voices of John Fiedler, James Cummings and Andre Stojka.
This weekend also saw the arrival of two limited-release films, Dysfunktional Family and The Good Thief.
Miramax's R-rated Dysfunktional Family opened with an ESTIMATED $1.1 million at 609 theaters with $1,827 per theater average.
The film is a stand-up-comedy concert film featuring Eddie Griffin that includes scenes from the comedian's personal life.
Directed by George Gallo, it stars Griffin.
Fox Searchlight's R-rated crime comedy The Good Thief, meanwhile, opened with an ESTIMATED $1,00,000 in six theaters, with a whopping $15,292 per theater average.
The film revolves around an aging gambler who assembles a team for a casino heist of a lifetime.
Directed by Neil Jordan, it stars Nick Nolte, Tcheky Karyo and Emir Kusturica.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $84 million, down 3.14 percent from last week when they totaled $86.7 million.
The Top 12 were also down 10.17 percent from last year when they totaled $93.5 million.
Last year, Sony's R-rated The Panic Room won the box office two weeks in a row with $18.2 million at 3,053 theaters ($5,969 per theater); Fox's R-rated High Crimes debuted in second with $14 million at 2,717 theaters ($5,155 per theater); and Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age came in third in its fourth week of release with $13.5 million at 3,200 theaters ($4,329 per theater).
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.