The best way to go into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is to think of it as the first film in a brand new franchise; a franchise in which mermaids love men zombies won’t eat you and a Fountain of Youth exists but all laws of logic reasoning and competent storytelling don’t. Although screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were smart enough to sever the narrative ties to the first two sequels in their franchise’s fourth outing the latest swashbuckling adventure in the series shares most of the same faults its predecessors faced.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) steps in for Gore Verbinski in On Stranger Tides but you’ll be hard-pressed to find his contributions to the already-flashy film that finds our hero Capt. Jack Sparrow (the inimitable Johnny Depp) on the hunt for the fore mentioned fountain. Of course he’s not the only one looking for eternal life: also in tow are nameless stereotypical Spaniards the English crown headed by a reformed Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard a ruthless pirate who looks and sounds a lot like Ian McShane. Their paths cross on numerous occasions as the story scrambles across the map culminating in a splashy battle in a magical meadow where Ponce de Leon’s greatest discovery lies.
Less a cohesive story and more a collection of individual set pieces linked together by nonsensical dialogue and supernatural occurrences the film isn’t all that hard to follow if you don’t strain yourself doing so. The sequence of events collide so conveniently for the characters you can’t help but call the screenplay anything but the result of complacency while the film itself sails so swiftly from point to point it’s actually a waste of time to dwell on plot holes and motives. Disrupting its momentum (which is one of the few things the film has going for it) is an unwatchable romance between Sam Claflin’s missionary Philip and Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) one of a handful of murderous mermaids who do battle with Blackbeard’s crew. Their bland courtship will have you begging for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to return to the high seas and that’s saying something.
The all-female fish people are one of a few additions to the Pirates world but their effect on the film is negligible outside of being the impetus for the coolest action sequence in the picture and perhaps the most unnerving of the series. The others include Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s busty daughter Angelica and Stephen Graham as shipmate Scrum. The former feels out of place among the cartoony happenings but provides much needed sass while the latter fills in for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for much of the film and is a pleasure to watch for some hammy comedic moments.
As always however this is Depp’s show and he continues to put a smile on my face with his charisma and theatrical presence. Even though he’s operating on autopilot throughout you can’t help but marvel at his energy and enthusiastic output as he literally fuels the fun in the film. The same can be said of Rush who’s given a meatier and more significant arc this time around. He trades quips with Depp as if they were a golden-age comedy duo and they remain the most appealing attraction in the franchise. Though he brings an undeniable sense of danger to the picture I was sadly underwhelmed by McShane’s Blackbeard a character with such a domineering reputation and imposing look he should’ve been stealing scenes left and right. Instead I felt he phoned his performance in though that could’ve been the result of Marshall’s indirection.
No better than the genre-bending original but a slight improvement over Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End On Stranger Tides suffers centrally from lack of a commanding captain. Marshall’s role is relegated to merely on-set facilitator or perhaps liaison between legions of talented craftspeople that make the movie look so good. Whatever vision he had for this venture if he had a unique take at all is chewed up and spit out by the engines of the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster factory rendering the film as mechanical as the ride from which it is based.
Disney's new movie Mars Needs Moms suffers from a classic mistake: focusing too much on one aspect of a production -- and in this case it's the visuals. The result is an unbalanced mess that looks terrific but doesn't have enough substance to leave the audience with anything more to "ooh" and "ah" at other than all the pretty colors. As we all know from that one really really hot girl/guy in high school who's now overweight and working a dead-end job looks can only go so far.
Adapted from the children's novel by Berkeley Breathed and directed by Simon Wells Mars Needs Moms follows Milo (acted by Seth Green voiced by Seth Robert Dusky) as he chases after his mother who's been stolen by Martians just a few hours after he told her he'd be better off without her. Once he arrives on Mars (by sneaking on the ship) he meets Gribble (Dan Fogler) who informs him of his problem: the Martians are ruled by a ruthless queen-like Supervisor (Mindy Sterling) who's decided that the hatchlings (babies who sprout from the ground like vegetables) must be divided: all males are thrown away into the dump and the females are raised by "nanny-bots" -- robots programmed by the "discipline" energy of good moms like Milo's from Earth. Milo and Gribble buddy-up and with the help of a rebel Martian named Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) the three of them venture to save Milo's mom before it's too late.
And venture on they do. Coming from producer Robert Zemeckis and utilizing the same motion-capture technology as The Polar Express A Christmas Carol and Beowulf Mars Needs Moms rushes forward embracing its visually stunning universe without taking a moment to stop and breathe. The characters never have a chance to do anything significant that would make the audience think they're substantial or important -- especially Gribble whom the filmmakers really really want us to care for. On top of that it relies on a plot line that we've all seen before and instead of diving into the parts that made it interesting (like the question of why men were thrown in the garbage and not women) it skims safely along the surface doing its best to avoid anything deeper than basic themes.
But that may be a little too picky. After all the movie is just supposed to be a fun little child's tale right? In that vein it succeeds. We feel like we're on an amusement park ride thanks to Ki's vibrant '60s flower-power paintings and the adventures on the Red Planet's surface. Even the moments that aren't super fast-paced present environments that are beautiful. Plus Fogler's performance as Gribble (as Jack Black-esque as it was) gives us some fun enjoyable moments and one-liners that kids will no doubt love.
Yet at the same time Mars Needs Moms' visuals aren't all glorious. In fact some hurt the plot because frankly the humans aren't animated very well. There's no life in their eyes. Simple movements like walking look awkward and too often characters facial expressions don't match the urgency found in their voices. Instead the animation just turns all the characters into weird cartoony versions of themselves that look so "almost human" they appear fake. And as always it's difficult to care for fake people.
Children will definitely enjoy Mars Needs Moms but from a filmmaking standpoint Wells really missed an opportunity to deliver something other than neat visuals and one-liners.
Prior to Sept. 11, Hollywood expected little in the way of brisk business during the last weekend of January. Then, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, NFL officials pushed back the Super Bowl one weekend to Feb. 3.
That prompted Hollywood to take decisive action.
Mandy Moore's A Walk to Remember and Josh Hartnett's 40 Days and 40 Nights were scheduled pre-Sept. 11 to debut against Super Bowl celebrations.
Miramax pushed back 40 Days and 40 Nights to March 1, but now Moore must fend off Richard Gere's The Mothman Prophecies, director Kevin Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo, the martial arts spoof Kung Pow: Enter the Fist and the expansion of Sean Penn's I Am Sam.
The Count of Monte Cristo and The Mothman Prophecies will likely slug it out as this weekend's top new choice.
How many times can Hollywood remake Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo? Not as many times as Hollywood cares to revisit Dumas' The Three Musketeers, but still enough to substantiate claims that studio executives have run out of any vaguely original ideas. Ironically, Reynolds' costume adventure fled its October release to avoid a bloody battle with director Peter Hyams' The Musketeer.
The Count of Monte Cristo look likes it will emulate Hyams' hyperkinetic The Musketeer, which opened Sept. 8 with $10.3 million without the benefit of a familiar face playing D'Artangan, but ultimately only earned an unimpressive $27 million.
Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce star as the childhood friends turned enemies when both fall in love with the same woman. Unfortunately, Reynolds brings such little energy to Caviezel's transformation from wrongly imprisoned dupe to vengeful nobleman that audiences might find themselves pining for the dumb-downed but high-kicking antics of The Musketeers.
At the end of the day, The Count of Monte Cristo isn't going to make anyone forget that Reynolds directed Waterworld.
Richard Gere is looking to score his first hit in five years sans Julia Roberts. He suffered two major flops in 2000--Autumn in New York ($37.8 million) and Dr. T & the Women ($13.1 million)-after reuniting in 1999 with his Pretty Woman co-star for the smash hit Runaway Bride ($152.3 million). The Jackal earned $54.9 million in 1997, but that modest gross can be attributed to pairing Gere with Bruce Willis. Gere's last solo hit: 1996's Primal Fear ($56.1 million).
Based on a true story, The Mothman Prophecies features Gere as a reporter investigating a series of strange events and visions afflicting a small West Virginian town. Directed by Arlington Road's Mark Pellington, this supernatural-tinged drama could capitalize on the success of fellow PG-13 chillers The Sixth Sense and The Others. Gere, though, might want look toward May's Unfaithful as his best chance of breaking out of his slump.
So Mariah Carey's Glitter bombed. That isn't stopping bubblegum pop divas Mandy Moore and Britney Spears from trying their hand at conquering the silver screen. Spears' Crossroads opens Feb. 15, which gives Moore three weeks to establish her acting credentials.
After a brief appearance in last summer's The Princess Diaries, Moore headlines A Walk to Remember as a mousy minister's daughter who falls for rich stud Shane West.
That A Walk to Remember is based on Nicholas Spark's popular novel should guarantee initial interest from non-Moore fans. However, what is essentially another disease-of-the-week tearjerker should fare slightly better than Glitter ($4.2 million) and On the Line ($4.3 million) with 'N Sync's Lance Bass and Joey Fatone.
Cross What's Up, Tiger Lily? and Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the result seemingly is Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. Steve Oedekerk doubles as star and director in this knockabout farce about a theater patron who somehow ends up trapped inside the old kung fu flick Savage Killers.
Oedekerk is best known for directing the anything-blows Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, so his presence far from guarantees a huge turnout this weekend. If anything, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist might attract die-hard martial fans open to the idea of Oedekerk poking fun at their favorite genre. Otherwise, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist won't become the chop socky equivalent of Scary Movie.
Already dismissed by numerous critics as Rain Man meets Kramer vs. Kramer, I Am Sam expands this weekend to 1,000-plus theaters after a low-key limited run that yielded $182,229 through Monday. Sean Penn stars as a mentally challenged father fighting to regain custody of his 7-year-old daughter. Michelle Pfeiffer is Penn's lawyer.
New Line had hoped that I Am Sam would emerge as an Oscar contender, but lukewarm reviews now make that an unlikely prospect. Without Oscar respect, I Am Sam must rely on its Beatles-driven soundtrack to generate interest.
Aside from Steven Soderbergh, Ridley Scott currently ranks as Hollywood's hardest-working director.
For his efforts, Scott's enjoyed two $100 million hits in the past two years, Gladiator and Hannibal. If Soderbergh can direct three consecutive $100 blockbusters in a row--Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean's Eleven--Scott surely is up for the task.
Scott guns for his third smash with Black Hawk Down, the brutal recount of a 1993 battle between U.S. troops trapped in war-torn Somalia, which stormed this past Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend into 3,101 theaters after three weeks in limited release.
Black Hawk Down easily unseated The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as the nation's top film. It has $39.8 million through Wednesday after a $33.6 million four-day weekend tally. It ranks as the second-highest January opening behind 1997's Star Wars: Special Edition reissue.
Scott's war drama should continue to dominate the box office at least until the Feb. 8 arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage and director John McTiernan's Rollerball remake.
A $100 million total seems likely for Scott. Sturdy reviews should also result in several high-profile Oscar nominations. The sense of patriotic pride that turned the similarly themed Spy Game and Behind Enemy Lines into modest hits still lingers, offsetting minor criticism that the film is one long, gory shootout. Also, the last time stars Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore and producer Jerry Bruckheimer went to war, they scored a $198.5 million hit in Pearl Harbor.
For the MLK holiday weekend, Disney let the Snow Dogs out, a moderately entertaining family comedy revolving around a fictional Alaska mushing race called the Arctic Challenge.
Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as a Miami dentist who heads to Alaska to find out more about his late biological mother. Northern Exposure-style antics aside, Gooding bonds with both the mushing dogs willed to him and the father (James Coburn) he never knew.
Snow Dogs astonished everyone by earning $23.7 million during the MLK holiday weekend, and has $25 million through Wednesday. That makes it the fourth-best January opening. Perhaps it should not have come as that much of a surprise considering Snow Dogs experienced sellouts at 85 percent of the 960 theaters that sneaked the film Jan. 5. Besides, there's only so many times that parents can or will take their children to see something other than the aging Monsters, Inc., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
That the eponymous heroes of Snow Dogs bark rather than talk might prevent the film from becoming a runaway smash on the scale of last year's Dr. Dolittle 2 and Cats and Dogs. Accordingly, Snow Dogs should end up with less than Dr. Dolittle 2's $112.9 million and Cats and Dogs's $93.3 million.
Snow Dogs might be a surprise hit, but it isn't likely to reverse the notion that Gooding is unwilling to stretch creatively since winning an Oscar for Jerry Maguire. Beyond giving a sterling performance in Men of Honor, Gooding's allowed himself to slum in moronic thrillers (Instinct, Chill Factor, the straight-to-video A Murder of Crows). He did enjoy two hits in 2001, but only as an ensemble cast member of Pearl Harbor and the amusing Rat Race.
Serving as a straight man to eight crafty canines isn't going to help his cause. Nor is spending much of Snow Dogs falling down and yelling at the top of his lungs.
Snow Dogs does represent a return to the doghouse for director Brian Levant. His Beethoven howled its way to $56.9 million in early 1992, so he knows a thing or two about handling dogs. He also could do with a hit after the ill-conceived The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
Is Colin Hanks a chip off the old block?
Orange County, the first feature film lead role for Tom Hanks' son, opened Jan. 11 with a zesty $15 million and enjoyed a $10.5 million MLK holiday weekend. Most of the credit should go to the aggressive campaign launched by MTV Films, which played up the presence of Jack Black. A wise move, considering Black's Shallow Hal opened in November with $22.5 million and ended up with a fat $69.6 million.
Orange County's total through Wednesday is $29.2 million. The youth comedy, featuring Hanks as an aspiring writer desperate to attend Stanford University, should remain an alternate this weekend for teens too cool for A Walk to Remember and apathetic toward Sunday's NFL Conference Championships.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring should generate an additional $8 million despite its fall from the top office top spot. Peter Jackson's epic fantasy already has $250 million through Wednesday--soundly supplanting Rush Hour 2 as New Line's biggest hit domestically--with a precious $300 million total all but inevitable. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will no doubt see its decrease in earnings slowed in weeks to come should this first of three films based on author J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy secure a number of high-profile Oscar nominations.
The challenge now before The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: to surpass Harry Potter. The boy wizard fell out of the Top 10 over the MLK holiday weekend after 2 ½ months in release and a $309.6 million total through Monday.
A Beautiful Mind's victory at last weekend's Golden Globes--it earned Best Picture (Drama) while Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly walked away with acting--will help Ron Howard's biography of tortured mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. retain its momentum. After three weekends in wide release, A Beautiful Mind has amassed $80.1 million through Wednesday. That is a formula for a possible $120 million tally, or more if it dominates the Oscars.
The Royal Tenenbaums' Gene Hackman won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Comedy/Musical), which should keep Wes Anderson's quirky family farce very much in the minds of moviegoers. The Royal Tenenbaums has $38 million through Wednesday, following a strong $5.3 million MLK holiday weekend at only 997 theaters.
Even more impressive is the outstanding performances by two other Oscar contenders, Gosford Park and In the Bedroom.
The comical murder mystery Gosford Park finds influential director Robert Altman at his most playful. Also serving as an examination of the British class system, Gosford Park looks set to become Altman's most popular film since he skewered Hollywood practices with 1992's The Player ($21.7 million). Gosford Park expanded Jan. 11 from 131 theaters to 518 theaters, jumping from $1.5 million to $3.6 million. Its total through Wednesday is $12.8 million, following a MLK holiday weekend haul of $4.1 million.
In the Bedroom, with Tom Wilkinson and Golden Globe winner Sissy Spacek coping with the shooting death of their son, also expanded Jan. 11, from 207 theaters to 424 theaters with great success. Todd Field's directorial debut has collected $8.6 million through Wednesday.
In the Bedroom should grow stronger in coming weeks if, as expected, it's blessed with a handful of Oscar nominations. The drama is Miramax's best shot at landing a Best Picture nomination given that The Shipping News is struggling to overcome lukewarm reviews and a poor box office total of $7.9 million through Monday in limited release.
The bell looks set to ring on Ali now that the MLK holiday has come and gone. Michael Mann's biography didn't benefit from Muhammad Ali's televised 60th birthday celebration, and poor word of mouth has hit the film harder than punch by Joe Frazier. Ali's total through Monday is $57.2 million, a disappointment considering the film's $105 million budget.
Heist yarn Ocean's Eleven is still on a roll, having racked up $172.4 million in ill-gotten gains through Wednesday.
New competition in Snow Dogs saw Monsters, Inc. and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius take a sharp tumble during the four-day holiday. Monsters, Inc. has $249.9 million through Monday, surpassing Toy Story 2 ($245.8 million) as the highest-grossing Disney/Pixar offering. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius has $74.1 million through Monday, with $80 million a likely landing spot for the pre-teen fly boy.
Five new wide releases Friday finally means, at long last, good riddance to deserving underachievers Vanilla Sky ($94.1 million) and Kate & Leopold ($43.2 million).
Andy Bird, a broke aspiring director who dated pop icon Madonna for 18 months beginning in 1997, is now speaking to the press. Bird told Scotland's Sunday Mail that he supported the Material Girl's decision to abort their baby. Bird also said the couple split because he couldn't handle the attention that Madonna's fame brought. Apparently, he's a much stronger man now--or he's broke again.
Carol Burnett's daughter, Carrie Hamilton, passed away at the age of 38 on Sunday. The actress (TV's Fame) died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles due to complications from cancer.
The Estefans--singer Gloria and husband Emilio--have been granted a temporary restraining order against Juan Carlos Diaz, who claims Emilio has sexually harassed and threatened him. Judge Deborah White-Labora did not comply with Diaz's request for a reciprocal TRO against Emilio, but did say she'd ask the elevators in the courthouse to stop playing Gloria's music.
The Toronto-based company Chum, which runs the music channel MuchMusic, has filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), stating that rival MTV Canada is playing too many music videos, Variety reports. It's alleged that MTV Canada is violating their license agreement, predicated on the station's playing a maximum of 10 percent music videos. Memo fro Hollywood.com to MuchMusic: When MTV Canada airs videos featuring Britney Spears, they really don't count as "music" videos.
The 63-year-old agreement that restricts the activities of talent agents is nearing the end of its 15-month termination phase, and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which monitors the pact, is in frantic negotiations with agents. Primarily the pact prevents agents from acting as producers. The problem is, no one can figure out what it is producers actually do.
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has regained hearing in one ear after receiving a cochlear implant. Limbaugh became profoundly deaf due to an autoimmune disorder. Either that, or due to listening to his own pusillanimous diatribe lo these many years.
Mike Tyson is being sued for divorce again, PageSix.com reports. Monica Tyson filed the requisite papers with Maryland officials Thursday. The second-year medical resident cited Iron Mike's penchant for the ladies as one reason for the split. Another being that when Mike nibbles on her ear he tells she tastes "just like Evander Holyfield."
The New York Post has calculated 21 TV stars' per-viewer salaries--and the results may surprise you. All My Children's Susan Lucci proved to be the biggest bargain at 23 cents per viewer, though Lucci earns $1 million per season for her work at ABC. And Katie Couric, despite her recent $65 million contract extension, logs in at only $2.82 per viewer. Hollywood.com has computed that Larry King (an incredibly high $5.78 per viewer) is still a bigger bargain than Drew Carey ($300,000 per viewer), as only four people actually watch The Drew Carey Show.
A ruby-encrusted, sterling silver and gold saddle owned by the late Roy Rogers was sold at auction for $412,000 Saturday. Hundreds of Czech rubies decorate the saddle, which was made using 1,400 ounces of silver and 136 ounces of gold. The anonymous winner was heard muttering, "No one told me the horse was sold separately."