Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
October has arrived, and with it, the season of deepest reverence for horrorphiles the world over.
As much as I count myself among their bloodthirsty ranks, the best part of the Halloween season for me is the heightened interest in horror films it stimulates within traditionally non-horror-centric audiences. It is the one time during the year when everyone, no matter their usual cinematic proclivities, rushes to the horror section of the video store to snatch up as many classic titles as possible.
Well luckily for all of us, Netflix’s Watch Instantly service has made it even easier for us to access these horror classics, as you have a plethora of scary movies at your fingertips. To that end we hope you’ll consider giving recent Netflix WI addition Child’s Play a spin as October 31st looms ever closer.
Who Made It: Child’s Play was co-written and directed by Tom Holland. Holland is a hero to guys like me. His other big directorial effort was the spectacular 80s vampire romp Fright Night, which I would also highly recommend adding to your Halloween playlist. Holland also wrote two of my favorite unsung horror titles: The Beast Within and Psycho II.
Who’s In It: The two most recognizable faces in Child’s Play are Brad Dourif and Chris Sarandon. Dourif, who plays Charles Lee Ray at the beginning of the film and subsequently voices the sadistic doll Chucky, is a prolific character actor who is most recently recognizable for his turn as Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, as well as Doc Cochran on HBO’s Deadwood and Sheriff Brackett in Rob Zombie’s atrocious Halloween reboots. Sarandon, who plays the police officer hot on Ray’s doll-sized heels, is actually one of the stars of the original Fright Night, playing Jerry Dandrige, one of cinema’s sexiest, most evil vampires.
What It’s About: Child’s Play is the happy story of notorious serial killer Charles Lee Ray, alias The Lakeshore Strangler, whose murderous crime spree comes to a violent end when he is gunned down in a Chicago toy store. Just before he dies, he uses ancient dark magic to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll. The doll ends up in the hands of six-year-old Andy Barclay who had desperately wanted a Good Guy for his birthday. Shortly after receiving the doll however, people around Andy begin to die horribly. The police begin to suspect young Andy may be psychologically disturbed, but Andy maintains that his plastic buddy Chucky is to blame.
Why You Should Watch It:
While Chucky may be as much a pop culture boogeyman as Freddy, Michael Myers, or Jason, Child’s Play is a franchise that does not enjoy the same level of cult adoration as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or Friday the 13th. In fact, and in the interest of full disclosure, as much as I am a rabid horror fan, today marked the very first time I had seen Child’s Play. But the first film in this series is a fantastic example of supernatural horror that, for a good portion of its run time, relies on atmosphere and shared universal fears rather than explicit violence or jump scares.
I think we can all agree that dolls are freaking scary. Their life-like appearance despite being inanimate always engenders lingering doubts in our subconscious that they are in fact lifeless. Child’s Play feeds this universal mistrust of dolls by not only making the doll a vessel of pure evil, but also withholding shots of Chucky moving beyond his capacities as a toy for much of the movie. We know the doll is killing people, but it takes quite a while before we actually see him do so.
The movie plays off of that feeling you get when laying eyes on a particularly creepy doll and wondering what mischief it gets into when you aren’t looking. It also toys with the idea that maybe Andy really is the killer; even having him dress in the same Good Guy attire as Chucky through much of the movie. Child’s Play is a creepy, suspenseful ride that operates just as well as a mystery story as it does a campy horror film.
Among the best aspects of Child’s Play are its special effects. There is not a single computer-generated effect in the whole film. The task of bringing Chucky to life is accomplished through a series of unique camera angles, child actors in costume, and masterful practical effects. Seeing the myriad ways the filmmakers were able to breath life into the plastic antagonist is what makes the film so remarkable and allows it to stand the test of time. Particularly impressive is the ending sequence in which a pint-sized stuntman executes a full body burn and animatronics are subsequently used to create a charred, nearly extinct Chucky. It gives me chills just thinking about it.
Netflix is streaming Child’s Play in high-definition, which will only shed a brighter spotlight on the film’s stellar effects and provide clearer imagery for your inevitable nightmares.
Queue up Child's Play!
Rumors of Will Ferrell’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. After falling from his perch atop the comedy world with a trio of high-profile disappointments Semi Pro Land of the Lost and Step Brothers the venerable funnyman seemed destined to join the tragic ranks of fellow SNL alums Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy comic geniuses who fell prey to their own spectacular success. But he makes a triumphant return to form in The Other Guys a riotous action comedy from longtime Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay (Anchorman Talladega Nights).
Playing Allen Gamble a straightlaced NYPD detective happily confined to his desk job as a forensic accountant Ferrell dials down the goofball element that metastasized in recent years instead exhibiting a kind of earnest cluelessness more reminiscent of his character in Elf. Safely in his element crunching numbers and combing paperwork for accounting irregularities risk-averse Gamble is more than willing to concede the spotlight to the precinct’s glory-hound celebrity cops Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel Jackson) who’ve charmed the citizenry with their heroic indifference toward danger private property or common sense.
Gamble’s good-natured obliviousness earns him the disdain of his embittered cubicle mate Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) who unlike Gamble didn’t come by his desk job by choice. In a city scarred by accidental police shootings and devoted to its beloved Yankees Hoitz committed the ultimate sin clipping an unarmed Derek Jeter in the leg during a moment of panicked confusion. (“You should have shot A-Rod!” one heckler shouts.) Removed from the street indefinitely by his boss Captain Gene Mauch (a scene-stealing Michael Keaton) Hoitz is a snarling ball of impotent rage most of which he directs at Gamble. (For those of you keeping score yes Keaton’s character is named after the former baseball manager.)
This being a buddy comedy Gamble’s and Hoitz’s fates are destined to intersect. Sure enough their chance to seize the fire comes when the city’s all-star crime-stoppers Danson and Highsmith are abruptly taken out of commission in one of the most shockingly hilarious twists in recent movie history.
Wahlberg and Ferrell may not make the best cops but they’re an absolutely stellar comedic team. To their credit McKay and Other Guys screenwriter Chris Henchy know we won’t settle for just the tired bickering odd-couple scenario of buddy comedies past (see Cop Out) and they take care at several points to flip the script on the formula when Gamble and Hoitz hit the streets together giving Wahlberg as many opportunities to flex his comedic muscles as Ferrell. It’s a bit of a gamble — the rapper-turned-actor isn’t exactly known for his range — but it pays off handsomely in the film.
Wahlberg has shown a welcome willingness to make fun of himself in recent years with his cameos on SNL and in Date Night. His performance in The Other Guys is in many ways a straight-up parody of his abrasive expletive-spewing character in The Departed a role for which he earned an Oscar nomination. (This still boggles my mind — I hope Mark is sending weekly gift baskets to both Martin Scorsese and the Academy.) The Other Guys is easily his funniest work since The Happening.
For his part McKay throws in some solidly-crafted action sequences to complement the comedy and even makes a stellar cameo as the leader of Dirty Mike and the Boys a gang of homeless men who terrorize the Priuses of New York City with their all-night orgies for which the interior of Toyota’s trendy hybrid are apparently ideal. But as a storyteller he still struggles mightily with the third act (see Step Brothers a film that all but fell off a cliff). The film loses some of its momentum in the second half mainly because it must get down to the business of resolving its nebulous plot which centers around the corrupt dealings of a hedge-fund charlatan (Steve Coogan) and some improperly filled-out scaffolding permits. But resolution issues notwithstanding The Other Guys still marks a solid upgrade over Step Brothers in the McKay-Ferrell pantheon and is arguably their best collaboration since Anchorman.
There's something strange lurking in the cornfields of rural Pennsylvania, and it isn't the Jolly Green Giant.
The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable director M. Night Shyamalan returns with Signs, a genuinely creepy sci-fi chiller that chronicles a potential alien invasion through the eyes of a family led by Mel Gibson. Signs should reinvigorate a box office that is being propped up solely by Austin Powers in Goldmember and possibly challenge the International Man of Mystery for the No. 1 spot.
The antithesis of Independence Day, Signs aims to startle audiences rather than blind them with expensive and extravagant special effects. Imagine being stuck in the basement during ID4's attack on Earth. That's Signs. Gibson, standing in for regular Shyamalan collaborator Bruce Willis, is the widowed father prepared to defend his family. Crop circles herald the arrival of the alien visit. But is this a friendly call a la Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
Shyamalan's unusual tales of ghosts and superheroes have transformed him into a director whose new films arrive with strong expectations. Signs is no exception. Its Friday opening comes after a long marketing campaign that refreshingly does not spoil the film's scariest moments. The Sixth Sense and The Others prove that everyone loves to be frightened out of their wits toward the end of a long, hot summer. Gibson guarantees a huge turnout, having headlined or lent his voice to eight $100-plus-million live-action and animated smashes in the last decade.
Lacking any direct competition, Signs should easily surpass The Sixth Sense ($26.6 million) and Unbreakable ($30.3 million) to become Shyamalan's best opener yet. Debuting in 3,264 theaters, Signs will likely enjoy a $35 million to $40 million first weekend. That also would serve as a record for Gibson, whose best opening to date is Ransom's $34.2 million.
Signs' long-term prospects look excellent given that August faces a dearth of potential blockbusters beyond xXx and Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.
That's not to say Signs will match the stunning $293.5 million earned by The Sixth Sense, which came out of nowhere to become a genuine phenomenon. Signs doesn't have the same kind of surprise ending that inspired millions to see The Sixth Sense again to catch what they missed the first time around. Signs, though, should quickly exceed Unbreakable's $94.9 million total and end up somewhere between $130 million and $166 million earned by Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Signs' alien forces will vanquish the dragons and mutated spiders that have tried unsuccessfully to dominate the box office.
Reign of Fire is almost extinguished, having eroded 53 percent in its third weekend from $7.3 million to $3.4 million. With a mere $37.8 million through Wednesday, Reign of Fire won't even match Dragonheart's modest $51.3 million tally.
Eight Legged Freaks fell straight out of the Top 10 in just its second weekend, having dropped 63 percent from $6.4 million to $2.4 million. This arachnid attack has claimed just $14.1 million through Sunday.
Dana Carvey all but disappeared--for personal and professional reasons--after enduring not one, but three, bombs in 1994.
Unfortunately, he couldn't have made a worse time to make his comeback.
Master of Disguise, a family comedy Carvey co-wrote, arrives just one week after Wayne's World cohort Mike Myers scored a record $73 million debut with Goldmember.
The surprise success of 1992's Wayne's World gave fellow Saturday Night Live staples Carvey and Myers the opportunity to go primetime. Myers didn't hit his stride until 1997's Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Carvey, however, lost all momentum after a disastrous 1994 that saw the triple whammies of Clean Slate ($7.3 million), The Road to Wellville ($6.4 million) and Trapped in Paradise ($5.8 million). Carvey now places his trust in fellow ex-SNLer Adam Sandler to revive his stalled movie career. Sandler, who executive produced Master of Disguise, also helped turn buddy Rob Schneider into an unlikely box office draw.
In Master of Disguise, Carvey stars as an Italian waiter who learns that he has inherited his father's ability to impersonate anyone and everyone. That lands Carvey in hot water with criminal mastermind Brent Spiner.
Carvey's long absence doesn't help Master of Disguise's cause. Parents certainly remember Carvey and his hilarious impressions of George Bush, but their kids are growing up under the George Bush Jr. administration. They don't know Carvey, so it's going to be a tough sell persuading them to sit through the wholesome misadventure of one bumbling hero when they would much rather titter at the fart-propelled antics of a certain shagadelic secret agent. Plus, Master of Disguise opens less than one week before Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.
It also doesn't help that Master of Disguise opens at a time when such family friendly offerings are falling by the wayside. The Country Bears opened last weekend with an unharmonious $5.3 million and has just $7.8 million through Wednesday. That'll teach Disney for wasting its time basing a film on a theme park attraction. Stuart Little 2 still isn't going to make more than its predecessor, despite having dropped a respectable 30 percent in its second weekend, from $15.1 million to $10.6 million. Stuart Little 2 has $39.3 through Wednesday, whereas Stuart Little had made $57.4 million during its first 13 days.
Opening in 2,565 theaters, Master of Disguise will likely muster up a debut slightly better than Clean Slate's total. A possible $25 million total at least puts Carvey back in the spotlight.
Unlike Carvey, Martin Lawrence successfully made the jump from TV star to Hollywood leading man. However, after a string of hits that culminated with 2000's Big Momma's House ($117.5 million total), Lawrence endured 2001's twin bombs Black Knight ($33.4 million) and What's the Worst that Could Happen? ($32.3 million).
So Lawrence returns to the stage in a bid to reverse his recent misfortunes. In the occasionally self-important Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat, the comedian promises to reveal all about his past legal and health problems. Lawrence is never more intriguing or funnier than when he tries to set the record straight about his recent trials and tribulations, but this comes only in the last third of the 104-minute concert film. Otherwise, Runteldat offers Lawrence's trite and moderately amusing observations on sex, kids and old age.
You So Crazy, Lawrence's first concert film, laughed up $10.1 million total in 1994 after playing in a mere 517 theaters. Opening in 725 theaters, the MTV Films-produced Runteldat should achieve more than double You So Crazy's $2.5 million debut.
Still, Lawrence needs a lot of support from his hard-core fans to match the surprising success of 2000's The Original Kings of Comedy, another MTV Films concert film. Directed by Spike Lee, the MTV Films-produced The Original Kings of Comedy opened with an eye-opening $11 million at just 827 theaters. The Original Kings of Comedy eventually earned $38.1 million thanks to the combined strength of Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac, who all were at the time poised for mainstream acceptance. Lawrence, who's prepared to make Bad Boys 2 to revive his flagging film career, is no longer at the height of his popularity. That means Runteldat won't dethrone The Original Kings of Comedy, but it should connect with urban audiences to make between $20 million and $25 million.
Like Master of Disguise, Runteldat must fight for an audience at a time when Goldmember is breaking records.
The third Austin Powers mission blasted off with a stunning $71 million, plus $3.6 million from previews held July 25. That's not only the fourth-biggest opening domestically, but a record opening for a comedy, beating the 67.4 million earned by Rush Hour 2, another New Line release. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery made just $53.8 million. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me opened with $57.4 million and grooved its way to a $205.5 million total.
Mike Myers' Goldmember is set to surpass its immediate predecessor, a feat that no other sequel has managed to attain this summer. Goldmember became the 11th new release in 2002 to break $100 million after earning $103.6 million through Wednesday. In comparison, The Spy Who Shagged Me earned $79.7 million through its sixth day in release, including $3 million from previews.
Even if it loses half its audience this weekend, Goldmember would still reap a whopping $35 million. That would bring its total close to a swinging $145 million, with $250 million a possible total. Yeah, baby!
Michael Caine, who stars as Powers' father, must be breaking out the champagne. His personal best is Miss Congeniality, which earned $106.8 million in 2000.
Goldmember not only goosed the box office, but stole away much of the business from Men in Black II and Mr. Deeds.
MIBII dropped 42 percent in its fourth weekend, from $14.5 million to $8.4 million. The sequel to the 1997 sci-fi hit has $176.43 million through Wednesday, with $200 million its likely target.
Adam Sandler made way for fellow ex-SNLer Myers. Mr. Deeds tumbled by 42 percent in its fifth week, from $7.3 million to $4.2 million. The remake of Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town has $118.1 million through Wednesday.
How tireless is Steven Soderbergh?
He's directed seven films since 1998, including this weekend's Full Frontal and the upcoming remake of Solaris, due Nov. 27. Does the man ever rest?
Full Frontal marks Soderbergh's return to the kind of low-budget filmmaking that he perfected with 1989's sex, lies, and videotape. The digitally shot comedy also reunites Soderbergh with Julia Roberts, who starred in his Erin Brockovich and Ocean's Eleven.
This is perhaps the most anticipated of this summer's art house releases. Miramax released Full Frontal this weekend in about 200 theaters, with a gradual expansion expected throughout August.
Given its experimental nature, Full Frontal will undoubtedly halt Soderbergh's streak of $100-plus million hits (Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean's Eleven). The bar should be set at $24.6 million, the total for sex, lies, and videotape.
Full Frontal opens at a time when adults clearly want to be entertained by the smart and savvy. Tadpole, a comedy about a 15-year-old boy's infatuation with his stepmother, saw its takings jump 239 percent from $80,682 to $273,373 after expanding from 34 theaters to 40 theaters. Tadpole's total is $400,405 through Sunday.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding continues to delight. The romantic comedy's $3 million weekend was enough to land it in the Top 10 for the first time in its 15 weeks of release. It has danced off with $36.7 million through Wednesday.
Road to Perdition should ignore the Signs and continue its prosperous trip. Tom Hanks' 1930s-era gangster epic tumbled by a mere 28 percent in its third weekend, from $15.4 million to $11.4 million. With $69.3 million through Wednesday, Road to Perdition's final destination of $100 million remains certain.
Signs, though, will likely mortally wound K-19: The Widowmaker, which continues to sink fast and furiously. Harrison Ford's fact-based story about a crippled Russian nuclear submarine dropped by 43 percent in its second weekend, from a tepid $12.7 million opening to $7.2 million. K-19, which has a disappointing $27.2 million through Wednesday, is on course to exceed Random Hearts' $31 million total but possibly not the $42.8 million earned by The Devil's Own. Perhaps Ford should have thought twice about handing over the Jack Ryan franchise to Ben Affleck.