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Friday, December 27, 2002

Attack of the movie clones

Retreads dominated the big screen in 2002, but it was a comic book superhero who caught filmgoers in his cinematic web

By LOUIS B. HOBSON -- Calgary Sun

In a year dominated by sequels, it was a new kid on the block who emerged the victor.

As the web-slinging hero of Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire trounced even such cinema heavyweights as Anakin Skywalker, Harry Potter, Agent J, Austin Powers and Gandalf the Grey.

With a domestic box-office of $403 million US, Spider-Man not only ruled the summer but the year. At $309 million, Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones fell $100 million short of its prequel predecessor The Phantom Menace.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets looks as if it will fall at least $50 million short of The Philosopher's Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers will have to sustain its powerful momentum to reach the $313 million The Fellowship of the Rings amassed.

To their credit, and the relief of their studios, Attack of the Clones, Chamber of Secrets and The Two Towers were solid financial hits, proving there is still a great deal of life in each franchise.

The same was true of Austin Powers in Goldmember which accumulated $213 million making it the most successful in its trilogy. Before Goldmember was released, Mike Myers insisted it was Austin's swan song but now he's singing a different tune, promising a fourth adventure by 2005. Pierce Brosnan also wisely renewed his contract seeing that Die Another Day has become the highest-grossing of the 20 James Bond films.

With a domestic box-office of $81 million, Wesley Snipes proved there's still a lot of good blood in his Blade thrillers and don't be surprised if Tim Allen announces he won't be putting his Santa suit in mothballs now that The Santa Clause 2 is on its way to matching the $140-million box-office of the original.

Not every sequel lived up to expectations. Stuart Little 2 was a huge box-office disappointment. At a final take of $65 million, it barely made back half its budget.

The first Spy Kids grossed $112 million whereas Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams topped off at $86 million. Star Trek: Nemesis had the weakest openings of all the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies and Analyze That! fell flat on its face.

It looks like Hannibal Lecter will be getting early retirement after Red Dragon failed to earn $100 million when the picture cost $110 million to make and Men in Black II failed to generate as much excitement and revenue as its predecessor.

Spider-Man may have made the most money this year, but it is far from the most profitable film of 2002. That honour goes to Winnipeg comedian Nia Vardalos' My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Made for a mere $5 million, it has grossed a whopping $225 million, making it the most successful romantic comedy and most successful independent film of all time.

If this were baseball and not cinema, Eddie Murphy would be going back to the minors.

To say all three of his 2002 movies underperformed is a gross understatement.

With a box office of less than $10 million, Pluto Nash is one of the biggest financial disasters in cinema history while Showtime and I Spy failed to recoup their investments. Murphy was not the only star to falter in 2002.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage was a bomb which explains why he's making a third Terminator movie.

The fact his Detox was deemed not releasable has sent Sylvester Stallone scurrying to make Rocky VI.

The Sweetest Thing proved a sour note for Cameron Diaz and Dragonfly failed to take wing for Kevin Costner.

Without Chris Tucker as his sidekick in The Tuxedo, Jackie Chan could barely muster a $50-million take so he's signed up for Rush Hour 3.

Adam Sandler got serious in Punch-Drunk Love winning kudos from critics but alienating his fans and then alienated everyone with his raunchy holiday cartoon Eight Crazy Nights.

When he was up to his old shenanigans in Mr. Deeds, Sandler scored a respectable $126 million.

Superstar rapper Eminem made an impressive crossover with his 8 Mile, shaming Madonna who continued her cinema losing streak with Swept Away.

Men With Brooms and The Fast Runner were the most successful Canadian movies of 2002 even though Bollywood/Hollywood and Ararat got far more attention, especially on the festival circuits.


THE YEAR'S BEST ...

For the most part, the best films of 2002 were released in the past four months whereas the worst films were scattered evenly throughout the year.

1. CHICAGO: Director Rob Marshall shows us some true cinematic razzle-dazzle in bringing the award-winning stage musical to the screen. It's the best movie musical since Cabaret, showcasing Oscar-calibre performances from Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah and John C. Riley. Between the eye-popping musical numbers, Marshall sneaks in some genuine drama, comedy and pathos.

2. FAR FROM HEAVEN: Director Todd Haynes achieved a minor miracle with this family melodrama that is not just set in the 1950s but recalls the style of filmmaking that dominated such movies in the '50s. It's a brave experiment that works and that showcases four of the best performances of the year. Watch for Oscar nominations for Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert and Patricia Clarkson.

3. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: The collaboration of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio proves to be a formidable force. It's not just a high-spirited story of the consummate con man but a study of loneliness, abandonment and disappointment.

4. ABOUT SCHMIDT: This story of a much-too-early retirement is not just a triumph for Jack Nicholson but for director Alexander Payne and co-stars Kathy Bates and Dermot Mulroney. With Schmidt, Nicholson has finally found a way to lose himself in a character.

5. SIGNS: In this tale of a family besieged by nasty extraterrestrials, M. Night Shyamalan does for alien movies what he did for ghosts in The Sixth Sense. It's filmmaking at its inventive best and it gave Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix a chance to shine.

6. GANGS OF NEW YORK: Martin Scorsese's tale of gang warfare in 19th century New York City may lack heart but it is still an epic achievement of design, direction and acting.

7. RABBIT-PROOF FENCE: It's a simple story told with conviction, empathy and candor. In the 1930s, the Australian government removed mixed-race children from aboriginal mothers. This is director Phillip Noyce's heart-wrenching story of how three such girls walked 1,500 miles to be back with their families.

8. NARC: Novice filmmaker Joe Carnahan has made a compelling thriller about the suspicious death of an undercover narcotics' detective. It's powerful, gritty filmmaking that proves talent, not money, is the real creative power behind a movie.

9. ICE AGE: This story of a make-shift, unorthodox family is an animated gem. It's clever and witty and the vocal contributions of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary are inspired.

10. THE HOURS: The year's finest art film is a showcase for the inestimable talents of Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and John C. Riley.


... AND THE YEAR'S WORST

These 10 are at the top of the list of films that should never have been foisted on moviegoers in the first place.

1. ROLLERBALL: A noisy, silly, unfocused remake of the science fiction classic that continues to reveal leading man Chris Klein is nothing more than a pretty face.

2. KUNG-POW: ENTER THE FIST: From the director of Ace Ventura 2, this kung-fu spoof was a fun idea that never managed to amount to much more than a mere concept.

3. HALF PAST DEAD: Steven Seagal has outstayed his welcome making him way past dead as far as action movies go.

4. UNDERCOVER BROTHER: One joke flogged to its most painful limits.

5. DEATH TO SMOOCHY: So much talent wasted on such a dreadful script.

6. DUCT TAPE FOREVER: Hey, Canadians can make unfunny comedies too.

7. BAD COMPANY: The pairing of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock was laughably bad.

8. SOLARIS: Dull and pretentious, it proves Steven Soderbergh doesn't strike gold every time out.

9. SORORITY BOYS: It's a drag all right in more ways than the obvious.

10. FEAR.COM: The horrible thing about this horror rip-off of The Ring is that it's offensive and vulgar, not scary.





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