Wet-behind-the-ears Milo (Ryan Phillippe) is a brilliant young computer programmer with big plans to launch a high-tech startup with his genius-type buddies. Until that is he's sweet-talked into an office job by his hero renowned programmer Gary Winston (Tim Robbins) the super-rich ruthless leader of the huge computer corporation NURV. Winston knows a computer mastermind like Milo is just what he needs to get NURV's plans for a global satellite system off the ground on deadline so he whisks Milo off to NURV's plush offices equips him with a Mercedes SUV and gives him a salary high enough to support himself and girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani) more than adequately. But something's wrong with this picture and Milo's dream come true turns into a nightmare as tragedy strikes and he discovers what a evil guy Winston really is (think Bill Gates gone bad).
At first glance pouty Ryan Phillippe might not strike you as first choice when casting a computer genius but give it awhile. He's actually somewhat convincing (and lookin' good in a pair of dark-rimmed glasses). Coming across like a bizarre hybrid of Jerry Springer and David Letterman Tim Robbins is passable as the father-figure-gone-wrong corporate honcho who will commit whatever illegal immoral acts he has to crush the entrepreneurial underdog in the name of free enterprise. Despite some clunky dialogue the rest of the cast is satisfactory. Claire Forlani seems too old for Phillippe and at first is irritatingly simpering as Milo's girlfriend until you learn just what she's up to. Weakest among them is Rachael Leigh Cook as Lisa the seemingly innocent computer graphics chick who befriends Milo - something too self-conscious in her delivery makes her less credible.
Keep your disbelief suspended with this one kiddies 'cause more than a few things don't quite add up. Like how come Milo is able to get around unnoticed on the supposedly ultra-high security NURV campus which happens to be equipped with cameras tracking up-and-coming computer programmers in their homes around the world? And if Milo is concerned about the ever-omnipotent NURV why is he yelling his suspicions about the company to Alice in their suburban backyard where every neighbor within two blocks can hear? Whatever. The movie is still fast-paced fun and even though some of the plot twists are as obvious as the glasses on Bill Gates' face a few surprises still might catch you off guard. The subtle special effects are cool as are the sets - the minute you see Winston's house you'll wish it was yours. This film has some halfway decent character development which too many movies recently have almost wholly done away with.
The film opens as teenagers Katie (Amber Tamblyn) and Becca (Rachael Bella) are having a sleepover and spooking each other with ghost stories. Trouble is the urban legend Becca retells is all too true as Katie is just about to find out in the most grisly of ways. The story centers on a mysterious videotape that should you be so unfortunate as to view it will kill you in seven days (you know this because someone calls right after you watch it to alert you that you're gonna kick). Katie and her friends watched it and sure enough they're all dead a week later--sparking Katie's aunt an investigative journalist named Rachel (Naomi Watts) to uncover what happened and why. When the trail leads her to the sinister tape she watches it receives the foreboding phone call and consequently sets off on a race against time to somehow save her life by finding out the meaning of what she's seen. She enlists the help of Noah (Martin Henderson) the father of her rather strange and solitary young son Aidan (David Dorfman)--who like all kids in horror movies these days is seeing frightening visions too--and over the course of seven days the two find themselves embroiled in a mystery that involves the tape a twisted family and dying horses.
The acting by all involved is generally good. Naomi Watts who hit the radar with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive last year ably carries the film although there are times in close-up when she looks too self-aware with an almost smug expression as though she's about to smile when the situation isn't the least bit funny. Maybe it's because she knows her Rachel does some pretty mind-blowingly foolish things the most noteworthy among them leaving the deadly video out where her curious son (who annoyingly invokes Haley Joel Osment and looks absolutely nothing like either of the folks playing his parents) can pop it in the ol' VCR. Though Watts is a basically likeable fresh face any number of up-and-coming actresses could have done this role--as well or better.
It's been awhile since jaded horror fans have had something to get excited about. Gore Verbinski justifies his career after the miserable The Mexican with this taut thriller which opens with the teen girls in a truly terrifying sequence reminiscent of Scream. Verbinski is keenly aware of the value of keeping things just out of sight and not resorting to cheap horror movie shlock so there are genuine chills to be had (animal lovers will want to cover their eyes during one particularly horrifying scene). Although the moments that'll really make you jump out of your skin are few and far between the secret behind the videotape is compelling as is the imagery. Without overdoing it The Ring displays some fantastic cinematography particularly with the Buñuel-esque videotape (you could have heard a pin drop as engrossed as the audience was at this review screening) and the shots of gloomy mist-enshrouded Washington State are disquietingly atmospheric. However the last third of the movie is somewhat disappointing and contains several utterly ridiculous scenes--particularly one at the ending (which actually has a nice twist).
Set in Sydney Australia the story revolves around Leon (Anthony LaPaglia) a police detective in his mid-40s who is married with two teenage sons. He struggles to keep his life under control but feels it slipping away from him especially after he has a fling with a woman Jane (Rachael Blake) whom he meets in a dancing class he is taking with his wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong). Jane is also surviving the breakup of her marriage to Pete (Glenn Robbins) and is simply lonely. She lives next door to Nik (Vince Colosimo) and Paula (Daniela Farinacci) a young couple with three children who seem to have a strong and happy marriage even after certain events nearly tear it apart. Sonja on the other hand suspects her husband is cheating and talks to her therapist Valerie (Barbara Hershey) about it. Valerie urges Sonja to confront Leon and tell him her feelings. Meanwhile Valerie and her husband John (Geoffrey Rush) are having problems of their own trying to come to grips with the murder of their young daughter a few years before. Somehow the lives of these eight people intersect when Leon becomes embroiled in a missing persons investigation.
For the most part the ensemble cast of mostly Australian actors is quite excellent. Many might not know the fact that LaPaglia who usually plays tough Italian New York types (One Good Cop So I Married an Axe Murderer) is actually a native Australian. Hearing his lilting and natural accent is refreshing and he gives his best acting effort yet as a man in the throes of a midlife crisis. Armstrong also turns in a quiet and subtle performance as the wife Sonja who eventually understands her husband's turmoil even though it wounds her deeply. Hershey and Rush play well off of one another as the damaged couple knee-deep in the grieving process particularly Hershey who gives an interesting twist on a successful therapist spiraling into her own self-doubt and despair. She proves once again how great an actress she really is. The other supporting characters lend depth to the story with Colosimo and Farinacci as Nik and Paula standing out the most. Their intense love affair starkly contrasts the messed-up lives of the rest of the couples.
Lantana refers to a type of plant which is filled with beautiful and exotic flowers but hides a thick thorny growth underneath. The opening shot takes us from the middle of this thorny bush where we see what appears to be a body entangled in it and pans out in a strange and slow way to show a great vista (reminiscent of David Lynch's opening to Blue Velvet). This pretty much sums up the feel of the movie--strange and slow--but not always in a positive light. While the performances are all good the pacing and subject matter brings the film down. The actions of the characters aren't always enough to keep up the momentum and the only compelling parts are when the actual mystery of the investigation start to unfold. You aren't sure who's guilty and who's not and the movie keeps you guessing until the very end. Yet the meandering personal dramas begin to get stagnant. Watching dysfunctional people deal with their marriages is something we've seen many times before.
'Save' Tops Holiday Box Office
"Save the Last Dance" kicked off in first place to a record-setting $28 million for the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
Distribution executives had anticipated that Paramount's PG-13-rated teen appeal dance drama would end 20th Century Fox's three-week chart-topping reign with "Cast Away," but they were only thinking in terms of an opening of about $20 million. Instead, "Dance" came in swinging to the tune of an ESTIMATED $28.00 million at 2,230 theaters ($12,556 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Paramount estimated "Dance" at $24.00 million.)
"Dance" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing at over 1,000 theaters last weekend.
"$20 million was kind of the benchmark (estimate going into the weekend)," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I had it at $18-21 million. That's where I thought it would be. Normally, when you have a film that appeals to a teen audience like this, the Friday goes through the roof and it sort of flattens out on Saturday. We were actually up 21% Saturday. The Friday figure was $7.5 million and it went to $9.1 million Saturday.
"I think it's the biggest opening ever on Martin Luther King weekend. It's not the biggest gross. We actually had that in '98 with 'Titanic' with $36 million. The previous record (for an opening this weekend) was 'Varsity Blues' with $17.5 million (via Paramount in 1999). We looked back all the way to '93 (without finding anything bigger than 'Dance')."
Why did "Dance" work so well? "Obviously, I think the (marketing) campaign worked and delivered the young female (audience)," Lewellen replied. "But it also appealed to an older female audience. We had about 300 sneaks last weekend and the exit polls were extraordinary -- like 95% were excellent or good (the Top Two Boxes). It just hits the nerve and appeals to a very broad audience."
Directed by Thomas Carter, "Dance" stars Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas.
Driven by "Dance," the holiday weekend went into the record books as Hollywood's biggest Martin Luther King weekend ever. That's what insiders were predicting last week, pointing out that the previous three-day weekend had seen very strong ticket sales by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more) of about $116 million.
Although distributors were thinking the holiday weekend would do about $150 million in key film ticket sales, business proved to be much stronger than expected. Based on Sunday morning studio estimates, the overall marketplace expanded to nearly $168 million.
The previous King weekend record was set Jan. 16-19, 1998, when key films grossed $128.68 million for four days. Paramount's "Titanic" led the pack that weekend with $36.0 million.
This weekend's arrival of "Dance" cast a shadow over Fox's PG-13-rated drama "Cast Away," which slid one slot to second place in its fourth week. Nonetheless, "Cast" held better than expected, grossing an ESTIMATED $20.21 million (-15%) at 3,048 theaters (+100 theaters; $6,630 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Fox estimated "Cast" at $17.15 million.) Its cume is approximately $168.2 million, heading for $200 million-plus.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.
USA Films' R-rated Oscar contender drama "Traffic" held on to third place in its third week with a solid ESTIMATED $13.07 million (-22%) at 1,527 theaters (+17 theaters; $8,559 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, USA estimated "Traffic" at $11.17 million.) Its cume is approximately $35.1 million.
"It looks like it has the least amount of drop (for three days) of all the other films out there, which is a really good indication of its holding power," USA Films distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning, "particularly in light of the fact that it's a very special film insofar as its subject matter is concerned. This isn't broad-based entertainment. It's issue oriented.
"In that respect, America seems to be embracing the film very well because our numbers, particularly in the major markets in the country, are very strong. The drop in major markets in the high-end zones are modest. They're like one and two percent and some of them are even up over last weekend. Mainstream markets like Cincinnati and Kansas City are holding their own, too. Their drops are a little bit more than what's reflected by the four days. They're going to be (down in) like the 30%s. With that type of drop, it shows that Middle America is embracing the film as much as the high-end, more urban and urbane markets are. Those markets -- New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago -- they're through the roof!"
With five nominations, including best picture and director, "Traffic" is a major contender for Golden Globes. What effect would a strong showing in the Globes have? "The Globes are indicative of how the winds are blowing for the Academy," Foley replied. "It may even sort out some of this stuff with what (film) Steven Soderbergh is ultimately going to be recognized for -- whether it's 'Erin Brockovich' or 'Traffic' or both. I think Benicio (Del Toro) is really going to have an indication given to him if he does well in the Golden Globes for the Academy."
Asked about further expansion plans, Foley said, "That's going to come at Academy nomination time where the values are the greatest. If the film secures significant nominations then, above and beyond just best director, then the film obviously takes on a hell of a lot more value out there and we have every intention of responding in kind to that opportunity. It's not only just the significant noms, it's the number of noms. This picture's going to be up for a number of nominations, so we could kick the number up to 500 or 1,000 more runs."
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Paramount's PG-13-rated romantic comedy "What Women Want" from Icon Productions dropped two pegs to fourth place in its fifth week with a still-attractive ESTIMATED $12.00 million (-27%) at 3,092 theaters (+40 theaters; $3,881 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Paramount estimated "Women" at $10.50 million.) Its cume is approximately $153.9 million.
Directed by Nancy Meyers, "Women" stars Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.
Columbia Pictures' went wide with its PG-13-rated drama "Finding Forrester" in its fourth week, tying for fourth place with a solid ESTIMATED $12.00 million at 2,002 theaters (+1,802 theaters; $5,994 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Columbia estimated "Forrester" at $10.00 million.) Its cume is approximately $21.4 million.
"We had an A-plus CinemaScore," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "We've continued to get fantastic exit polls. This is a movie that audiences love. The 200 runs we started out with held firm during their run, and we would expect really strong holdover on this very good opening, as well.
"We think we're in for a nice long run. Finally, the volume of product lets up going forward. So we think we'll more than hold our own in the market."
Looking at the expansion of the overall holiday weekend marketplace, Blake observed, "Unbelievable! I didn't think December could be as huge as it turned out to be. I didn't think November could be as huge as it turned out to be. And here we go again -- so it's terrific!"
Directed by Gus Van Sant, "Forrester" stars Sean Connery.
New Line Cinema's wide opening of its PG-13-rated drama "Thirteen Days" was sixth with an encouraging ESTIMATED $11.70 million at 2,029 theaters (+2,028 theaters; $5,766 per t eater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, New Line estimated "Days" at $10.23 million.) Its cume is approximately $12.3 million.
"We're extremely happy," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "We knew it was going to be a crowded marketplace with a lot of pictures in our demos. And not only a lot of pictures, but a lot of good pictures -- I mean 'Forrester's' a good picture, 'Traffic's' a good picture, 'Crouching Tiger's' a good picture. These are good movies. I'm a big believer that movies beget themselves no matter what the demographic is. So if this weekend you see a good movie, next weekend the first thing you think about doing is going to see another movie. Whether you're 50 years old or 20 years old, it's the same deal. We really think we're going to be in the marketplace for a long time. It's a high quality film and plays great."
Directed by Roger Donaldson, "Thirteen Days" stars Kevin Costner.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated action comedy "Double Take" opened in seventh place to a better-than-anticipated ESTIMATED $11.50 million at 1,631 theaters ($7,057 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, BV estimated "Take" at $10.00 million.)
Directed by George Gallo, "Double Take" stars Eddie Griffin and Orlando Jones.
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's PG-13-rated comedy "Miss Congeniality," which was fourth last week, tied for seventh place in its fourth week with a still-winning ESTIMATED $11.50 million (-17%) at 2,668 theaters ($4,310 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, Warners estimated "Miss" at $9.36 million.) Its cume is approximately $80.6 million.
Directed by Donald Petrie, "Congeniality" stars Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt and Candice Bergen.
Sony Pictures Classics took ninth place with the expansion of its critically-acclaimed PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The Mandarin Chinese language Oscar contender from director Ang Lee continued to enjoy killer ticket sales with an ESTIMATED $8.92 million at 700 theaters (+528 theaters; $12,735 per theater). Its cume is approximately $28.9 million.
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Buena Vista/Disney's G-rated animated comedy "The Emperor's New Groove," down four pegs in its fifth week, with a less-lively ESTIMATED $7.50 million (-4%) at 2,237 theaters (-537 theaters; $3,353 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, BV estimated "Emperor" at $5.70 million.) Its cume is approximately $71.2 million.
Directed by Mark Dindal and produced by Randy Fullmer, it features the voices of David Spade, Eartha Kitt, John Goodman and Patrick Warburton.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of MGM's PG-13-rated suspense thriller "AntiTrust," placing 12th with an uneventful ESTIMATED $6.30 million at 2,433 theaters ($2,589 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, MGM estimated "AntiTrust" at $5.20 million.)
Directed by Peter Howitt, "AntiTrust" stars Ryan Phillippe, Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani and Tim Robbins.
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, Buena Vista/Touchstone went wider with its PG-13-rated dark comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," placing 13th with a hopeful ESTIMATED $3.00 million at 431 theaters (+266 theaters; $6,961 per theater). (For the three-day period Friday through Sunday, BV estimated "Brother" at $2.60 million.) Its cume is approximately $7.3 million.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Ethan and Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and John Turturro.
Fine Line Features went wider with its R-rated comedy "State and Main," placing 18th with a quiet ESTIMATED $1.67 million at 460 theaters (+383 theaters; $3,625 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.0 million.
Written and directed by David Mamet, its ensemble cast is headed by Alec Baldwin.
Fine Line also went wider with its R-rated drama "Before Night Falls," placing 30th with a calm ESTIMATED $0.16 million at 18 theaters (+10 theaters; $8,833 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
Directed by Julian Schnabel, it stars Javier Bardem.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the four-day period -- took in approximately $167.94 million, up about 37.69% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $121.97 million.
This weekend's key film gross cannot be compared to the previous weekend this year, a normal three-day period.
Last year, New Line's opening week of "Next Friday" was first with $16.92 million at 1,103 theaters ($15,338 per theater); and Sony's second week of "Stuart Little" was second with $12.52 million at 3,092 theaters ($4,048 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $29.4 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $48.2 million.