Captain America: The Winter Soldier is filled — and I mean jam-packed — with genre-bending, action-heavy, sportily tense and relentlessly sinuous, sky-high-concept and maniacally bonkers stuff. Polygonal mayhem that aims, and impressively so, to top the Marvel lot in ideas, deconstructing every thriller staple from government corruption to talking computers to odd couple agents gone rogue. But oddly enough, the moment in the Cap sequel that I find most arresting several weeks after seeing the film is our peaceful reunion with Steve Rogers, trotting merrily around the Washington Monument as the sun rises on our nation's capital.
The scene is shot from far overhead, a low pulse/high spirits Chris Evans reduced to a shapeless blur as he repeatedly (but politely!) laps fellow jogger and veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)... and yet it might be the closest we feel to Cap throughout the movie.
The Winter Soldier has a lot to worry about in the delivery of its content. Managing a plot as ambitious and multifaceted as its own, with themes as grand as the scope of the American mentality — as represented by Steve Rogers, raised in the good old days of gee-golly-jingoism — it doesn't always have the faculties to devote to humanizing its central troupe. Cap isn't left hollow, but his battles with the dark cloud of contemporary skepticism play more like an intriguing Socratic discussion than an emotional arc. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, a character who ran circles around her Avengers co-players in flavor, feels a bit shortchanged in that department here (in her closest thing to a starring role yet, no less).
Mackie's Falcon, a regular joe who is roped into the calamity thanks largely to his willingness to chat with a fellow runner — a rare skill, honestly — is less of a problem. He doesn't have much to do, but he does it all well enough. Dynamic though he may be, Mackie keeps things bridled as Cap's ad-hoc sidekick, playing up the along-for-the-ride shtick rather than going full (or even half) superhero. We might want more from him, knowing just how fun he can be, but it's a sating dose. The real hunger is for more in the way of Black Widow, Cap, and — perhaps most of all — the titular villain.
Still, these palpable holes pierce through a film that gets plenty right. As elegantly as Joe Johnston did the Spielberg thing back in 2011, Joe and Anthony Russo take on the ballots of post-innocence. They aren't afraid to get wild and weird, taking The Winter Soldier through valleys that feel unprecedented in superhero cinema. We're grateful for the invention here — for Robert Redford's buttoned-up Tom Clancy villain, for the directors' aggressive tunneling through a wide underworld of subterranean corruption, and especially for one scene in an army bunker that amounts to the most charmingly bats**t crazy reveal in any Marvel movie yet. We might be most grateful, though, for a new take on Nick Fury; here, the franchise gives Samuel L. Jackson his best material by a mile.
But in the absence of definitive work done in our heroing couple, a pair rich in fibers but relegated to broad strokes and easy quips in this turn, most of it amounts to a fairly good spy thriller, not an ace-in-the-whole neo-superhero masterpiece... which, justly or otherwise, is what we've come to expect and demand from these things.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
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.
Santa delivered the goods at the box office this weekend as Santa Clause 2 arrived to a gift-wrapped $29 million.
The Ring remained in the winners circle with $18.5 million, with no percentage drop at all from last weekend.
I Spy kicked off in third place to a disappointing $14 million.
Jackass: The Movie was still laughing in fourth place with $13.1 million.
Ghost Ship sailed into fifth place, down 43 percent with $6.6 million.
Also helping to boost this weekend's totals was Twentieth Century Fox's IMAX release of Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones with an out of this world $1.5 million. (For details, see OTHER OPENINGS below).
Key films were down about 18 percent from last year -- $114.6 million versus $139.9 million.
There also was record setting news on the home entertainment front as Sony Pictures Entertainment announced its DVD and videocassette release of Spider-Man had sold a projected 11 million combined units this weekend. Sony ESTIMATED Spider-Man will do a record setting $190 million in retail revenue in North America its first three days in the marketplace. (For details, see the related news story here.)
THE TOP TEN
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated comedy sequel Santa Clause 2 opened to a chart topping ESTIMATED $29.0 million at 3,350 theaters ($8,662 per theater).
Santa's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Michael Lembeck, it stars Tim Allen.
The original Santa Clause opened the weekend of Nov. 11-13, 1994 in second place to $19.3 million at 2,183 theaters ($8,851 per theater). It went on to gross $144.6 million in domestic theaters.
"It was one of those films that the theater manager grapevine had told us weeks and weeks ago that this was going to be a big hit," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning about the sequel. "Inside the operations of all the theater chains, they knew it and they were prepared. We had great showtimes, multiple screens, more seats than you could imagine and it was a nice ride."
Asked about starting the holiday season as early as Nov. 1, Viane explained, "I think it's much like the summer season -- November being such a prolific grossing month that you can use any part of it to launch a movie. And for something like ours we had a movie that had great anticipation behind it. (The film) lived up to what the audience was looking for. The CinemaScores were all A (grades)and in our own college tracking we scored a 90. The original scored an 89.
"So people came in with some pretty high expectation and (Michael Lembeck) made a film that people loved. I think this is one of those roles Tim could do forever if he wanted to because the audience has a love affair with Tim in this love. He delivers. He makes you believe he's Santa Claus. But the nice part is, you can expand the (holiday) season much like early May is now the launch of summer. We believe that this (early November date) is just a logical launching pad for films for the holiday."
Asked about the eight year period between the original and the sequel, Viane replied, "The movie is a perennial bring-back every Christmas. People fall in love and watch it on TV or on their DVDs or whatever. All we did was bring what they were looking for (into theaters) and with a very smart and warm story, wonderfully delivered. These are the kind of weekends you look forward to."
Where is Santa 2 heading? "With all of the exit (poll data), I'm thinking this is another one of those $100 million-plus movies," Viane said. "Obviously, we're off to such a terrific start. In my wildest dreams I never thought we'd be number one by over $10 million. And who would have ever 'thunk' that we could have got to the point of doubling the gross of the film we went head and head with? These things all suggest we're going to be around. We have two weeks clear in the marketplace and I think we'll be in very, very good shape before we take on the head-on competition with Harry Potter (and the Chamber of Secrets). I think we will weather that (when it opens Nov. 15).
"We will play very well through the Thanksgiving holiday. As people get closer and closer to the holiday, I think we're going to get some return visits. I'm pretty comfortable that all that will happen. It's always (interesting) when you listen to people walking out of a theater. So many of them said, 'Gee, I can't wait to see this again before the holidays.' It's a true testament to how well the movie's playing."
DreamWorks' PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring held on to second place in its third week with a solid ESTIMATED $18.5 million (-0%) at 2,808 theaters (+174 theaters; $6,585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $64.9 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.
"Last weekend was up 23 percent from the first weekend, so it's pretty amazing right now the way it's playing (with no drop in the second weekend)," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning.
What accounts for the great legs? "It has to be word of mouth," Tharp replied. "The sneaks -- we had 400 of them (the weekend before opening) -- were 60-70 percent capacity. So it didn't sell out for those. Even the opening Friday night, we didn't sell out. But since then the movie's been playing fantastically. It's all word of mouth."
Columbia's opening of its PG-13 rated comedy I Spy finished third with a quiet ESTIMATED $14.0 million at 3,182 theaters ($4,400 per theater).
Directed by Betty Thomas, it stars Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.
Paramount and MTV Films' R rated comedy Jackass: The Movie tumbled three slots to fourth place in its second week, holding better than expected with an ESTIMATED $13.1 million (-42%) at 2,530 theaters (+21 theaters; $5,178 per theater). Its cume is approximately $42.5 million.
Directed by Jeff Tremaine, it stars Johnny Knoxville.
Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R rated horror film Ghost Ship dropped anchor in fifth place, down two rungs in its second week with a slow ESTIMATED $6.57 million (-43%) at 2,787 theaters ($2,357 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.3 million.
Directed by Steve Beck, it stars Julianna Margulies.
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding slid one slot to sixth place in its 29th week, still showing great legs with an ESTIMATED $5.62 million (-9%) at 1,977 theaters (+10 theaters; $2,843 per theater). Its cume is approximately $185.2 million, heading for more than $200 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama dropped three notches to seventh place in its sixth week with a still sweet ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-29%) at 2,441 theaters (-741 theaters; $1,905 per theater). Its cume is approximately $113.5 million, heading for $125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Reese Witherspoon.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's R rated romantic comedy drama Punch-Drunk Love went wide in its fourth week, placing eighth with an okay ESTIMATED $4.2 million at 1,252 theaters (+771 theaters; $3,355 per theater). Its cume is approximately $11.1 million.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, it stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson.
Universal and Dino De Laurentiis's R rated thriller Red Dragon, presented in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, fell three limbs to ninth place in its fifth week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $2.66 million (-43%) at 1,956 theaters (-930 theaters; $1,360 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.0 million, heading for $100 million.
Directed by Brett Ratner, it stars Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13 rated urban appeal romantic comedy Brown Sugar, which was ninth last week, with a less tasty ESTIMATED $1.7 million (-39%) at 855 theaters (-291 theaters; $1,988 per theater). Its cume is approximately $24.6 million.
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, it stars Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Twentieth Century Fox and Lucasfilm's blockbuster Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones in a special IMAX release to a sensational ESTIMATED $1.45 million at 58 theaters ($25,000 per theater). Its cume is approximately $303.6 million.
"We're playing at 32 institutions and in 26 commercial theaters," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "They did better than I thought. There were lots of $20,000 Saturdays out there on this. It's fantastic!"
Lions Gate Films' R rated thriller The Weight of Water arrived to a soggy ESTIMATED $50,000 at 27 theaters ($1,865 per theater).
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, it stars Elizabeth Hurley, Catherine McCormack, Sean Penn and Sarah Polley.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend saw United Artists' R rated satiric documentary Bowling for Columbine released via MGM widen in its third week with a still impressive ESTIMATED $1.65 million at 162 theaters (+51 theaters; $10,185 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.6 million.
Written, produced and directed by Michael Moore, it won the Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Miramax's R rated drama Frida went wider in its second week with a promising ESTIMATED $1.02 million at 47 theaters (+42 theaters; $21,595 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.3 million.
Directed by Julie Taymor, it stars Salma Hayek.
Miramax's Comedian expanded in its fourth week with a chilly ESTIMATED $0.72 million at 225 theaters (+195 theaters; $3,317 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Directed by Christian Charles, it stars Jerry Seinfeld.
Miramax's Dimension Films label went wider with its R rated urban appeal action drama Paid in Full with a dull ESTIMATED $0.63 million at 273 theaters (+5 theaters; $2,289 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.3 million.
Directed by Charles Stone III, it stars Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris and Cam'ron.
HBO Films and Newmarket Films' PG-13 rated comedy drama Real Women Have Curves added theaters in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.48 million at 124 theaters (+16 theaters; $3,802 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Directed by Patricia Cardoso, it stars America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros and George Lopez.
Artisan Entertainment's R rated comedy Roger Dodger widened in its second week with a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.16 million at 25 theaters (+21 theaters; $6,311 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.2 million.
United Artists R rated drama All or Nothing expanded via MGM in its second week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $43,000 at 16 theaters (+9 theaters; $2,714 per theater). Its cume is approximately $80,000.
Written and directed by Mike Leigh, it stars Timothy Spall.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $114.62 million for the weekend, down about 18.05 percent from last year when they totaled $139.86 million.
Key films were up about 15.54 percent from the previous weekend this year when they totaled $99.2 million.
Last year, Buena Vista/Disney's opening week of Monsters, Inc. was first with $62.58 million at 3,237 theaters ($19,332 per theater); and Sony's opening week of The One was second with $19.11 million at 2,894 theaters ($6,604 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $81.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $47.5 million.