Last weekend proved that the box office is still pretty sweet on kiddie films, as Bee Movie overtook American Gangster for the No. 1 spot. (Fred Claus came in third. Sigh.) This weekend there’s yet another family fun type offering—yes, we did groan a little—with Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, a mouthful that magically morphs to “Mr. Magoo” whenever we talk about it. The titular Mr. Magorium is played by Dustin Hoffman, sporting zany pants, shoes and eyebrows that seem to be stolen from George Whipple. He’s a spry 243-year-old who lives above a magical toy store where stuffed animals hug back, balls have minds of their own, fish fly through the air: in short, a kid fantasyland that would instantly give an adult a migraine. Natalie Portman plays a winsome waif who manages the store, a former piano prodigy (whose apartment and wardrobe seem to have been ordered from the Wes Anderson warehouse) who finds out that Mr. Magorium plans to leave her the shop after he “departs.” Jason Bateman is the requisite skeptic, an accountant who needs to learn to believe in magic. There are no real surprises in this one; it’s just an honest-to-goodness kid’s film (no Fred Claus or Bee Movie-like wink to the adults) with A-level talent. The writer-director is Zach Helm, who last wrote Stranger than Fiction, and we’re guessing that’s how Dustin Hoffman came on board.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium opens Friday at United Artists 54th street and Regal Battery Park.
A MUCH (MUCH) smaller film is The Life of Reilly. This is a 90 minute adaptation of Charles Nelson Reilly’s one-man show (Yes! He had one!) Save It for the Stage. And if some of you born after 1975 are struggling to remember where you know the name from, don’t worry: The film opens with a montage of director Barry Poltermann asking people on the street to place him. Most think he’s dead (Mr. Reilly did indeed pass away last May). A Broadway star (and Tony winner), Reilly is perhaps—for better or for worse—best remembered for his campy game show appearances on programs like The Match Game and Hollywood Squares, not to mention regular visits to Johnny Carson’s couch. Mr. Poltermann coaxed Reilly out of retirement for one final stage presentation, and the result is a funny and bittersweet look back at his childhood growing up in the Bronx (as he says, “Eugene O’Neill wouldn’t touch this family”), and the early days of television and Hollywood. We learned a lot, not the least of which is that Reilly was best friends with Burt Reynolds. Who knew?
The Life of Reilly opens Friday at Cinema Village.
AND THEN THERE’S Beowulf. When having to read the Anglo-Saxon epic (in ye olde English) in school, it didn’t exactly scream “Box Office Winner!” But we’re guessing that’s how it’s going to be remembered for generations to come. Maybe it’s an age thing, but the whole Polar Express/300 weird digital animation kind of freaks us out. We’d love to report on how the movie itself was, but the studio (sniff) didn’t let us see it. However, we’re more than happy to go with Variety’s “muscular, stirring but ultimately soulless” summation (listen, when digital animation starts having soul, we’re all going to be in trouble). The big news is that Angelina Jolie appears in nothing but gold paint as Grendel’s mother, getting everyone all aflutter with the news that she’s nude. But is she really? Isn’t this where the whole animation thing comes in? This is just one of the many confusing things about the future. All in all, it doesn’t really matter because somehow we just know this thing is going to rake in the money this weekend. Just you wait … it’s only a matter of time before the Canterbury Tales show up 3-D.
Beowulf opens Friday at AMC Loews Kips Bay, 34th Street and Third Avenue, and Regal Battery Park.