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.
Horror can be an awfully scary place for women. If you're not a butt-kicking heroine in the tradition of Ellen Ripley or Laurie Strode, there's a good chance you'll be nothing more than a skewered, scantily clad teenager or, worst case scenario, a forgotten victim of a bleak, exploitative horror cliché.
But, as fate would have it for Kristen Connolly, she's one of the lucky ones. Well, as lucky as a gal who finds herself in the midst of a vacation-gone-terrifyingly-awry can be. In the genre-bending horror comedy The Cabin in the Woods, which hits theaters today, Connolly — who recently chatted with Hollywood.com about her work on the film — plays Dana, sweet and smart college co-ed who is forced to find her inner horror movie heroine under some pretty twisted circumstances.
Of course, it helps your chances of being a big screen horror heroine if you're in the safe hands of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, who directed and wrote Cabin, respectively. "Joss and Drew are so smart, and such feminists really," Connolly said during our chat, "They are so respectful of women and so smart in writing their female characters. It was such an amazing set to be on and all of us felt really respected and taken care of. We weren’t just like some of the teenagers you see in these horror movies where its like, ‘Yeah, chop em up!’"
That's not to say Goddard and Whedon didn't draw inspiration from the classic slasher flicks of classic horror history. In fact, Connolly attributes Cabin's clever take on the classic horror archetype on their appreciation and respect for the genre. "Joss and Drew really love horror movies, and I think you can feel that in [Cabin.] It’s not ironic , it’s more of a love letter to the genre." And while Whedon-savvy moviegoers should immediately recognize how Cabin is a horror tribute with an ultra-meta twist, Goddard made sure his stars played it straight. "Drew would talk to us all the time about not winking at the camera, not acting like we knew we were in on it. You read the script and you go, ‘Oh, clearly this is the jock, this is the virgin.’ But they really didn’t want us to act like that. Drew just wanted us to play the scenes as truthfully as we could and to really go there as far as the terror of it."
But as anyone who has seen Connolly's star-making turn as the savvy Dana can attest, there was no lack of commitment on the actress' part when it came to taking viewers along for the shriek-filled ride. In fact, Connolly, whose pre-Cabin credits include soap operas (As the World Turns, Guiding Light), stage (King Lear at New York City's Public Theater), and screen (Revolutionary Road, The Happening), is already drawing comparisons to some legendary scream queens. A comparison the rising star takes no issue with. "People keep mentioning Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver and all these classic bad-ass women and I’m like ‘Hey, if my name is in that company that’s rad!'," said Connolly, who will appear in Barry Levinson's Bay ("It’s a scary movie and I can tell you even less about this than Cabin in the Woods" she teased) and David Fincher's Netflix series House of Cards.
Still, it's praise Connolly (pictured here in a scene with her Cabin co-star Jesse Williams) doesn't take lightly considering Cabin's long and arduous road to the big screen. Greenlit in 2008, filmed in 2009 and shelved until 2011 after Lionsgate had picked it up from a struggling MGM, for some time it looked as though Cabin would never see the light of day. "It was frustrating while it was happening," Connolly admitted, "You shoot something and you want people to see it and we all loved making it and we all felt really proud of it, and for it to not be out and to not be able to talk about it was really hard. But I think the timing is actually perfect now."
Well, timing and some tremendous buzz surrounding the SXSW crowd-pleaser and its wild, shrouded-in-secrecy third act. Keeping in line with Cabin's rule-breaker attitude, genuine excitement for the film has even turned the unyielding culture of Internet spoilers on its head. Those who have experienced Cabin have diligently stuck to a no-spoil honor system, a feat almost unheard of for a buzzy project.
"I think that what’s been so, really kind of touching actually, is to see these reviews and read stuff online and people who have seen the movie really aren’t giving it away," Connolly acknowledged, "and I think that’s sort of a tribute to Joss and Drew and to people loving the movie. They know the fun of it is to go in not knowing anything. People are taking care of our movie."
So if you've managed to avoid the tempting spoilers, Connolly wants you to at least know this, when it comes to Cabin, the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. As the newly anointed scream queen, who described the movie as a "roller coaster," explained, "You see the same expression on people's faces when they come out and they're like, ‘Whoa! That was crazy!’" Strap in, ladies and gents.
The Cabin in the Woods opens nationwide in theaters today.
[Photo credits: Lionsgate]
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The Cabin in the Woods Review
Joss Whedon Talks Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods Star Fran Kranz Talks Horror, Broadway, and Joss Whedon
Cabin in the Woods Director Drew Goddard: "I Wish People Would Just Go to the Theater and Be Surprised"
The Sundance Film Festival, which is backed by actor Robert Redford and his Sundance Institute for movies, comes to an end today in Park City, Utah. Saturday night's awards ceremony saw the sci-fi drama Primer, win the top grand jury prize, while the jurors awarded DIG! the top prize in the documentary category. Debra Granik took the dramatic directing award for Down to the Bone, about a lower-middle-class wife and mother's struggles with cocaine addiction.
Many celebs have attended the festival since it kicked off 11 days ago, including Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Kevin Bacon and Jane Fonda. And while the stars littered the streets of the snowy mountain town, studios were busy making acquisitions.
Among the purchases this week were the The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon, for Newmarket Films; Garden State for Miramax Films and Fox Searchlight; and CSA: Confederate Sates of America for IFC Films.
Warner Independent Pictures, the new indie arm of Warner Bros., acquired We Don't Live Here Anymore, a drama about two couples whose marriages are on the rocks. The film stars Naomi Watts, Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern and Peter Krause.
But despite their success at Sundance, films that win the festival's top awards have a difficult time finding broad audiences and, more often than not, become the year's most talked-about art-house titles rather than box office hits.
Of course, the ultimate Sundance success story to date has to be that of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez's The Blair Witch Project. The film cost about $25,000 to make, was acquired by Artisan Entertainment for a cool $1 million and raked in $140 million at the box office. But when it debuted at Sundance in 1999, Blair Witch never won a single prize. In fact, it wasn't even in competition.
That said, it is nearly impossible to predict a film's success, or failure, outside the festival grounds. But films such as November, starring the well-known Courteney Cox, are sure to garner buzz.
First-timer Jason Wishnow, whose pic Oedipus stars vegetables instead of actors, told Reuters Sunday that more than anything, the festival is about exposure.
"The goal is getting [the work] out to find agents, producers or someone who will take you to the next level," he said.
The top winners in the independent film festival screen for one last time today.
Here is a complete list of winners:
Dramatic Grand Jury Prize: Primer, directed, written, and produced by Shane Carruth
Documentary Grand Jury Prize: DIG!, directed and produced by Ondi Timoner
Documentary Audience Award: Born Into Brothels, directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
Dramatic Audience Award: Maria Full of Grace, directed by Joshua Marston
Documentary Directing Award: Morgan Spurlock , Super Size Me
Dramatic Directing Award: Debra Granik, Down To the Bone
World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award: Seducing Doctor Lewis, directed by Jean-François Pouliot
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Larry Gross, We Don't Live Here Anymore
Documentary Special Jury Prize: Farmingville, directed by Catherine Tambini and Carlos Sandoval
Dramatic Special Jury Prizes: Brother to Brother, directed by Rodney Evans; and Vera Farmiga for her performance in Down To the Bone
World Cinema Documentary Audience Award: The Corporation, directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott
Excellence in Cinematography Award: Ferne Pearlstein, Imelda from the documentary competition; Nancy Schreiber, November from the dramatic competition
Freedom of Expression Award: Repatriation, directed by Dong-won Kim
Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking: When the Storm Came, directed by Shilpi Gupta; and Gowanus, Brooklyn, directed by Ryan Fleck
Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking: Tomo, directed by Paul Catling
Honorable Mentions in Short Filmmaking: Curtis, directed by Jacob Akira Okada; Harvie Krumpet, directed by Adam Elliot; Krumoed, directed by David LaChapelle; Papillion d'Amour, directed by Nicholas Provost; and Spokane, directed by Larry Kennar
2004 Sundance Online Film Festival Viewers Awards: Bathtime in Clerkenwell, directed by Alex Budovsky (Animation); Wet Dreams False Images, directed by Jesse Epstein (Short Subject); and The Dawn at my Back: Memoir of a Texas Upbringing, directed by Carroll Parrott Blue and Kristy H.A. Kang (New Forms Gallery)
Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award: Gyorgy Palfi, Taxidermia from Europe; Andrucha Waddington, House of Sand from Latin America; Miranda July, Me You and Everyone We Know from the United States. Kosuke Hosokaim, director of Tepid Love from Japan received an honorable mention
The Writers Guild of America announced their list of nominees for their annual film awards Thursday, six days before the coveted Oscar nominations.
The WGA nominees for best original screenplay include Gosford Park, written by Julian Fellowes, Monster's Ball, written by Milo Addica and Will Rokosand, and The Royal Tenenbaums, written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.
Joel and Ethan Coen, who previously won a WGA Award for Fargo in 1996, and were nominated last year for O Brother, Where Art Thou, were again nominated for The Man Who Wasn't There.
Australians Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, who were also nominated for the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award for direction, were nominated for the musical Moulin Rouge.
Nominees for best adapted screenplay include A Beautiful Mind, written by Akiva Goldsman, Black Hawk Down, by Ken Nolan, Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis, and Ghost World, written by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff.
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson were nominated for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which was also nominated for a DGA Award for direction.
All films released in 2001 under the jurisdiction of the Writers Guild of America are eligible for Writers Guild Awards. The nominations were chosen from 187 films, 111 in the original screenplay category and 76 in the adapted screenplay category.
Oscar favorites In the Bedroom and Memento were ineligible for this year's Writers Guild awards because their writers were not members of the Guild when the screenplays were written.
The 54th Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place Saturday, March 2, 2002, simultaneously in Los Angeles (Beverly Hilton Hotel) and New York (Pierre Hotel).