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6 items from 2003


The Cat in the Hat

8 December 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Opens

Friday, Nov. 21

Turning the magical into the literal and robbing the imagination of its powers, Imagine Entertainment's live-action version of "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" emerges as a lackluster and nearly charmless affair. It's one thing for an adored author of children's books to write witty rhymes about a 6-foot talking cat festooned with a red-and-white stovepipe hat and his fantastical devices and trickster minions. It's quite another for Hollywood makeup artists, costume and set designers to reduce these splendid imaginary conceits to a belabored reality. If a movie ever disproved the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words, this is the one.

The filmmakers go to such extraordinary efforts to create a cartoon world, you wonder why the obvious never occurred to anyone: Why not do "The Cat" as a cartoon? Instead, the filmmakers unveil a fey Mike Myers in feline costume and makeup, prancing around campy sets of off-putting yellows, greens and pastels. Meanwhile, two delightful child actors play off this carnage of overproduction with admirable aplomb. There are enough wacky gags and comic destruction in the movie to engage young children over the holidays. And Myers has a significant fan base to ensure a solid opening for "Cat" as well as decent legs. However, little here will spark the interest of the dating crowd or adult audiences.

Longtime production designer Bo Welch gets tapped to make his feature directing debut, which makes perfect sense given how the sets dominate this film. But his inexperience causes the movie to lurch from sequence to sequence without much narrative rhythm. The "Seinfeld" writing team of Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schafffer struggle to flesh out the bare-bones 1950s story by Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor S. Geisel) with new gags and characters, but the struggle shows.

The story takes place one rainy day when two siblings of hard-working single mom Joan Walden (Kelly Preston, showing just enough cleavage to keep dad awake) are forbidden to perform any act that might be construed as "fun." Mom's real estate sales career depends on her having a spotless house for a company party later that day given at the behest of her germophobic boss, Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes).

Virtuous Sally (Dakota Fanning), who has utter perfection in deportment and manners, and her brother, Conrad (Spencer Breslin), who is incapable of not making a mess, are left with narcoleptic baby sitter Mrs. Kwan (Amy Hill) even as they nurse the wounds of their most recent encounter with Mom's ill-chosen boyfriend, next-door neighbor Lawrence Quinn (Alec Baldwin). Then the day and their outlook change radically when Myers' Cat materializes, insisting that "it's good to have fun, but you have to know how!"

Various musical numbers and high jinks occupy this trio for a while, but the focus of their fun soon falls on a mysterious crate, which the Cat declares must remain unopened as it will create "the mother of all messes." Once it is opened, the house dissolves into a magical mystery tour where flowerlike spots splatter walls, ceilings and people's faces

a purple sludge ensnares people, especially Lawrence

and various characters pop up, including a talking fish (animated by Sean Hayes) and the Cat's two assistants, Thing 1 and Things 2, hyperactive elves with chipmunklike faces.

The sets -- the Walden house, its suburban neighborhood and the town's main street -- all have a distressingly symmetrical look, a kind of cartoon version of the white-bread neighborhoods in early Steven Spielberg movies. The movie tends to repeat such gags as the Cat's confusion over Conrad's name or the ever-dozing baby sitter. Eventually, the sameness of the candy cane sets and the repetitive gags grind a viewer into a sullen stupor. Where's the subversive wit and imagination one expects from Dr. Seuss?

Encased in a furry costume that requires a portable AC unit, Myers supplies plenty of energy, but you can't help noticing how restricted he is. This leaves the field open to the considerable comic talents of Fanning and Breslin, whose mugging and reactions are pricelessly funny. The other actors are game, but their shallow, rote characters are mind-numbingly banal. No wonder Mrs. Kwan keeps falling asleep.

DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures/Imagine Entertainment

Credits:

Director: Bo Welch

Screenwriters: Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer

Based on the book by: Dr. Seuss

Producer: Brian Glazer

Executive producers: Eric McLeod, Gregg Taylor, Karen Kehela Sherwood, Maureen Peyrot

Director of photography: Emmanuel Lubezki

Production designer: Alex McDowell

Music: David Newman

Special makeup effects: Steve Johnson

Costume designer: Rita Ryack

Editor: Don Zimmerman

Cast:

Cat: Mike Myers

Quinn: Alec Baldwin

Mom: Kelly Preston

Sally: Dakota Fanning

Conrad: Spencer Breslin

Mrs. Kwan: Amy Hill

Mr. Humberfloob, Fish: Sean Hayes

Running time -- 81 minutes

MPAA rating: PG »

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Boxoffice preview: A fat at-bat for that darn 'Cat'

23 November 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Move over "Elf", "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" is coming to town. And if Seussian history repeats itself, it's going to be a huge weekend for the Universal Pictures/DreamWorks SKG co-production. Following in the path of Universal's 2000 hit "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", which opened to $55 million and went on to earn $260 million domestically, the latest adaptation of a Dr. Seuss title has the production powerhouse of Brian Grazer and Imagine Entertainment behind it and the equally ebullient star power of Mike Myers to match that of "The Grinch"'s Jim Carrey. This time around, the team is relying on director Bo Welch, a production designer making his film directorial debut, but "Cat" is still likely to come close to, if not surpass, the phenomenal opening gross of its predecessor. Based on the 1957 children's story, "Cat" stars Myers as the playful Cat in the Hat who's come to the house of Sally (Dakota Fanning) and Conrad (Spencer Breslin) to rescue them from their wet, rainy day by turning their world upside down. The film also features Kelly Preston and Alec Baldwin. Rated PG and clocking in at less than 85 minutes, "Cat" is likely to find a huge family audience. The film will bow in more than 3,000 locations. »

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Fanning sisters ink projects for 20th

24 October 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The Fanning sisters -- Dakota and younger sister Elle -- are both heading off to work for 20th Century Fox. Dakota Fanning, who most recently teamed onscreen with Brittany Murphy in MGM's "Uptown Girls", has found her way to the lead role in Fox's "Hide and Seek" for director John Polson. The project will see her star as Emily, the daughter of Robert De Niro's character who is torn up over the suicide of her mother. She begins to deal with her mom's death through an imaginary friend, which winds up taking an unexpected and terrifying turn. Barry Josephson is producing from a script by Ari Schlossberg. At the studio, the project is being overseen by Peter Kang in Hutch Parker's TCF division. The project reunites Dakota Fanning with Fox, for whom she recently finished up a starring turn opposite Denzel Washington in "Man On Fire" for Elizabeth Gabler's Fox 2000 and helmer Tony Scott. »

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Uptown Girls

8 September 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Opens

August 15

"Uptown Girls" is a perky comedy aimed at young women that gets the job done with crisp efficiency. It may be junk food with high sugar levels, but the inspired teaming of rising young actress Brittany Murphy and precocious tot Dakota Fanning (who stole "I Am Sam" from Sean Penn) makes you forget those hazardous sweeteners. The modestly budgeted MGM release should perform well in theatrical and ancillary markets.

The oddity here is the involvement of Boaz Yakin, director of much harder-edged films such as "Fresh" and "A Price Above Rubies", and renowned cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, whom one associates with Scorsese and Fassbinder, among others. Who knew such softies lurked beneath those gritty exteriors? Certainly nothing the least bit edgy creeps into this conventional fantasy, all of which takes place in a romanticized New York. The filmmakers do deserve credit for shooting in NYC but could easily have shot on Hollywood soundstages for all the reality that intrudes.

The movie's uptown girls are diametric opposites: Murphy's Molly Gunn -- a Capote-esque name if ever there were one -- is the spoiled, carefree daughter of a late rock legend who never grew up. Her emotional age is about 13. Fanning's Ray Schleine is an equally privileged 8-year-old, only she is an anal hypochondriac and control freak. Her emotional age is that of a snooty 35-year-old.

You could have skipped Psych 101 and still be aware that parental absence causes neither female to act her age. The death of Molly's parents in a plane crash froze her in permanent adolescence. A catastrophic stroke suffered by Ray's dad, which has turned him into a vegetable, and the emotional distance, bordering on complete neglect, by her mom (Heather Locklear), a powerful music exec, has warped her attitude toward life. "It's a harsh world", she snaps should anyone question her cold-bloodedness.

The two encounter each other through Molly's music-industry acquaintances, especially A&R scout Huey (Donald Faison). But the connection gets sealed when Molly's business manager embezzles all her money, forcing her to take a job as Ray's nanny. Neither can stand the other.

Kicked out of her Fifth Avenue apartment, Molly first rooms with best girl pal, Ingrid (Marley Shelton), then with Huey. Meanwhile, she takes up a one-sided romantic relationship with upcoming though aloof rocker Neal (Jesse Spencer). Chaos seems to follow her everywhere. This is a person who can set fire to cookie mix. Ray, on the other hand, is a little woman, oh-so-precise and conscientious in her homework, ballet class, nutritional intake and insistence on a germ-free environment. What else can happen in a movie fantasy but for each female to teach the other how to grow up?

Kalina Ivanov's sets and Sarah Edwards' costumes emphasize the theme of mutual privilege. Joel McNeely's music is busy, a rapidly ticking metronome that seems to pace Yakin's direction. Certainly, the movie moves much too fast for an audience to question the basic improbability of much that transpires.

Mostly, the movie is an enjoyable duet between two young performers, who play off each other impeccably. Murphy goes wild with her comic physicality in this open, free-spirited performance. Fanning is equally as fun, appearing to have modeled Ray on Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch, only without the cackle. The two characters also share a pet pig. So when the movie needs a quick pick-me-up, out trots the pig, all pink and cuddly. He, by the way, always acts his age.

UPTOWN GIRLS

MGM

A Greenstreet Films production

Credits:

Director: Boaz Yakin

Screenwriters: Julia Dahl, Mo Ogrodnik, Lisa Davidowitz

Story by: Allison Jacobs

Producers: John Penotti, Fisher Stevens, Allison Jacobs

Executive producers: Joe Caracciolo Jr., Tim Williams, Boaz Yakin

Director of photography: Michael Ballhaus

Production designer: Kalina Ivanov

Music: Joel McNeely

Co-executive producers: Gary Winick, Vicki Cherkas

Costume designer: Sarah Edwards

Editor: David Ray

Cast:

Molly Gunn: Brittany Murphy

Ray Schleine: Dakota Fanning

Ingrid: Marley Shelton

Huey: Donald Faison

Neal: Jesse Spencer

Mr. McConkey: Austin Pendleton

Roma Schleine: Heather Locklear

Running time -- 92 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 »

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Walken ready to ignite Scott's 'Fire'

17 March 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Christopher Walken, nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his work in DreamWorks' Catch Me If You Can, is in negotiations to star in Man on Fire for Regency Enterprises, Fox 2000 and helmer Tony Scott. Walken joins Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning in the project, which is based on the A.J. Quinnell novel and adapted by Brian Helgeland. Fire centers on an American ex-soldier (Washington) living out his days in Mexico. An old friend by the name of Reyburn (Walken) persuades the ex-soldier to protect a child, Pinta Balletto (Fanning), whose parents are threatened by a rash of kidnappings. Regency declined comment on the deal. Scott Free Prods. is producing the project, with credits going to Scott, Regency's Arnon Milchan and Lucas Foster. At the studios, the project is being overseen by Regency's Sanford Panitch along with Fox 2000's Elizabeth Gabler. For Scott Free, production president Lisa Ellzey is overseeing. Walken is repped by ICM. His role in the Steven Spielberg-directed Catch recently landed him a SAG Award for best supporting actor. He currently costars in Poolhall Junkies and next stars in DreamWorks' Envy and an untitled action project opposite the Rock at Universal Pictures. »

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Walken ready to ignite Scott's 'Fire'

17 March 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Christopher Walken, nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his work in DreamWorks' Catch Me If You Can, is in negotiations to star in Man on Fire for Regency Enterprises, Fox 2000 and helmer Tony Scott. Walken joins Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning in the project, which is based on the A.J. Quinnell novel and adapted by Brian Helgeland. Fire centers on an American ex-soldier (Washington) living out his days in Mexico. An old friend by the name of Reyburn (Walken) persuades the ex-soldier to protect a child, Pinta Balletto (Fanning), whose parents are threatened by a rash of kidnappings. Regency declined comment on the deal. Scott Free Prods. is producing the project, with credits going to Scott, Regency's Arnon Milchan and Lucas Foster. At the studios, the project is being overseen by Regency's Sanford Panitch along with Fox 2000's Elizabeth Gabler. For Scott Free, production president Lisa Ellzey is overseeing. Walken is repped by ICM. His role in the Steven Spielberg-directed Catch recently landed him a SAG Award for best supporting actor. He currently costars in Poolhall Junkies and next stars in DreamWorks' Envy and an untitled action project opposite the Rock at Universal Pictures. »

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6 items from 2003


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