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In a summer when it seems that no one in Hollywood has an original thought and are simply banking on sequels to fatten their bank accounts, along comes Hairspray. Shot in Toronto, but set in Baltimore in 1962 Hairspray is the story of the elaborately coiffed Tracy Turnblad. When Tracy is sent to detention (for “inappropriate hair height”) she learns a new kind of dancing from the African-American kids who pass their after school penalty time dancing to rockin’ R&B. When Von Tussel cancels “Negro Day,” the once-a-month celebration of black music hosted by record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) Tracy hatches a plan to stage a protest in front of the television station.
Hairspray is one of the more anticipated Broadway to screen adaptations of recent years, and it delivers. The movie’s exuberant tone is maintained by the youthful cast, and while the older cast members try and keep up, they don’t always keep pace. Tarvolta, in drag as Tracy’s overweight mother raises a laugh or two early on, but as the movie progresses the drag act becomes more an exercise in stunt casting—“Look John Travolta’s wearing a Muumuu!”—rather than a truly great comedic performance. Nikki Blonsky, however, the former ice cream scooper plucked from obscurity to play the lead role shines. Hairspray starts off strong, wanes a bit early and soft peddles the social commentary of the John Waters movie, but makes up for its shortcomings through sheer strength of the cast’s high-spirited will to entertain.
All the regulars are back—that’s Manny and Ellie, the Wooly Mammoth couple voiced by Ray Romano and Queen Latifah, macho tiger Diego (Denis Leary), the annoyingly unlucky sloth named Sid (John Leguizamo) and Scrat (Chris Wedge) the mute squirrel, and rare highlight in a film that tested my resolve to stay in my seat for the whole movie.
The ubiquitous acorn from the first two movies is back, chased by Scrat, the most dogged squirrel ever seen on film. Mad Money, is a heist movie in the vein of Ocean’s 11, except the snazzy suits, stylish setting, most of the entertainment value and all the good looking boys are gone. Realizing the Sisyphean task of trying to pay off her debts on her meager salary she teams up with two other employees—Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes—to steal worn-out money (hiding it in their underwear!) that has been taken out of circulation and is about to be destroyed.
Rich people on the skids have been the subject of a lot of movies and Mad Money greedily looks to them for inspiration. Don’t get me wrong it doesn’t take social context in order for me to get the joke, but this movie could use some perspective to deepen the humor. Based on the Sue Monk Kidd bestselling novel the movie is set in the American south in 1964. Leading the cast is Dakota Fanning, the young actress best known as the pre-teen star of War of the Worlds, Charlotte’s Web and Man on Fire.
Tracey’s a dance-crazy teen who rushes home from school every day to watch The Corny Collins Show, a cut-rate riff on American Bandstand, which features a cast of milky white teens who strut their bland perfectly groomed selves for the television cameras. There Tracy learns a hip-shaking dance that gets her a berth on the Collins show, despite the fact that the evil Von Tussels think she is too heavy and not pretty enough to be on television. The movie takes on a more earnest tone as Tracy and her friends—both black and white—conspire to integrate The Corny Collins Show.
Director Adam Shankman is best known for making blandly formulaic family films like Cheaper by the Dozen and The Pacifier gives the proceedings a shimmering 1960s glow that is quite infectious.
Walken is reliably weird as the joke shop owning father, but the performance is strange rather than funny, which seems a bit at odds with the rest of the film.


Her beaming smile, strong singing voice and enthusiasm go a long way toward building good will for her character. These well intentioned, but dull movies (Ice Age and Ice Age 2: The Meltdown) are more an excuse to sell stuffed toys than to entertain. Even the kids in the audience I saw this with seemed bored by the story of how life will change for the entire herd when Manny and Ellie’s baby arrives. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a deeply average animated movie (I didn’t see the 3-D version, but can’t imagine it would make much difference) with some nice messages for kids about the importance of family, loyalty, friendship and cooperation presented in the blandest, most predictable way possible.
In their place is Diane Keaton as yuppie housewife Bridget Cardigan, a woman used to the finer things in life who must return to the workforce when her executive husband is downsized. The story, although based on true events, is slight and the attempts to pump it up by introducing romance feel manipulative and sentimental, not sexy or interesting. Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) is an emotionally damaged fourteen-year-old being raised by her abusive single parent father (Paul Bettany) after she accidentally shot her mother ten years previously. She’s now fourteen and on the cusp of adult roles and with The Secret Life of Bees takes a big step forward. The new movie starring John Travolta (in drag), Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and newcomer Nikki Blonsky is based on the Broadway smash hit musical, which in turn was based on a 1988 movie by John Waters. At the helm of the show is Velma Von Tussel (Michelle Pfeiffer) the vicious mother of Amber (Brittany Snow), who will do anything to ensure that her daughter is front and center. She becomes a local sensation, much to the delight of her mom Edna (John Travolta) and father Wilbur (Christopher Walken), whose Har Har Hut is the Taj Mahal of joke shops, and even gets a gig endorsing clothes from Mr.
Pfeiffer, on the come back trail after a few years off, looks amazing and is suitably villainous as the racist, conniving station manager, but the part could have used a little less camp and a few more laughs.
The new film is more of the same, introducing several new characters which seem primed and ready to take their place on toy store shelves in the movie swag section. Leading up to the birth there’s trouble in the pack but when Sid follows three newborn dinosaurs down to a strange and beautiful world underneath the ice the ensuing adventure—and a one-eyed weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg)—brings them together.
The voice work is middling, the animation is nice but not as eye catching as the recent work in Monsters vs. Coyote, a lovable but psychics defying acorn hunter often humiliated but never daunted in his quest for the elusive nut. Star Diane Keaton is an Oscar winning actress with credits that include The Godfather, Annie Hall and Reds. Faced with mounting debt she is forced to take a job as a janitor at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank.
It doesn’t feel worthy of a big screen treatment, and it comes as no surprise that it is based on a British made-for-television movie called Hot Money. I truly dislike being manipulated into feeling a certain way, feeling as though if a tear doesn’t come to my eye that I don’t “get it” or have a heart like a cherry pit.
President Lyndon B Johnson has just written a Civil Rights Bill into law promising equality to all, but when Lily and her nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) try and exercise that equality Rosaleen is brutalized by bigoted townsfolk. Drawing on the best bits from both its inspirations the new Hairspray is completely original and a happy antidote to the dire sequelitis that has infected the multi-plexes this season.


Queen Latifah brings her considerable charm to the movie but should have brought a bit more fire to the role of the rebel rousing Motormouth Maybelle.
In a cast top heavy with vets, Blonsky and the young cast members—Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron and Elijah Kelley—really are the stars of this show. Co-star Queen Latifah is an Oscar nominee and was the first hip hop artist to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It’s aspires to the social comment of How to Beat the High Co$t of Living without actually seriously—comedies can have serious undertones too!— exploring any social issues. Let us get to know the characters and set up a real reason for us to care about them and the movie’s humor will have much more resonance. Nothing irks me more than swelling orchestral music, timed to coincide with a first tender kiss, the death of a loved one or a warm embrace between long-lost relatives. Following the beating the pair go one the run—Lily from her father, Rosaleen from police custody. In fact, the only truly entertaining parts of the movie have nothing to do with the main narrative.
In a story line that seems edited in willy-nilly Scrat has some competition and perhaps even a love match in the form of a female buck-toothed squirrel named Scratte. Supporting actor Ted Danson is best known for his role as Sam Malone on Cheers and once won Funniest Male Performer in a TV Series from the American Comedy Awards. As it is Bridget and her husband are just formerly rich people who’ll do anything to keep up with the Jones and as a result, not very interesting. So I went to The Secret Life of Bees expecting a slight story buoyed by a handful of cinematic tricks geared to turn me into a ball of mush. They end up at the Pepto Bismol-pink home of the bee-keeping Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Sophie Okenodo and Alicia Keys) in the nearby town of Tiburon.
I liked it because although it is all of the above it is also a well crafted, warm hearted story with compelling characters, good performances with an interesting dollop of civil rights history thrown in.
She barely moves, as though she’s almost paralyzed by a lifetime of hurt and anguish but when the levee breaks and she bursts into tears, screaming that she is “unlovable” it is heart wrenching. Played back-to back these segments may have made a good stand alone kid’s short film, and in the process spared us the tedium of the rest of the movie.
So you’d think with all that know-how, all those years of experience, that this team would be able to make a good movie. Instead I found a rarity, a life affirming movie that didn’t make me want to reach for a barf bag.
The combination of personal stories set against the backdrop of Jim Crow America isn’t a new idea, but The Secret Life of Bees manages a hopeful tone, despite the hatred and bigotry contained in the story. It represents the percentage of professional critic reviews that are positive for a given film or television show.



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