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.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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After making a sparkling debut in 2004 with his first feature film the slacker comedy Napoleon Dynamite offbeat writer-director Jared Hess seemed poised for a fruitful career as an earnest more accessible alternative to hipster auteur Wes Anderson. But he stumbled a bit with his sophomore effort the uneven Mexican wrestling flick Nacho Libre despite Jack Black’s desperate mugging for laughs. And he falls apart completely with his latest comedy the crude maddeningly insipid Gentlemen Broncos.
It’s a shame too because Gentlemen Broncos held so much potential. Its trailers promised a lively battle of wits between a pompous sci-fi author played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and the teenage protege (Michael Angarano) from whom he plagiarized his latest bestselling novel. It could have been Hess’s Rushmore. But what the trailers don’t tell you is that Clement plays merely a supporting role in Gentlemen Broncos and that his character Dr. Ronald Chevalier virtually disappears after the film’s splendid setup. Clement is by far the best part of the film and when he isn’t on the screen the story devolves into an increasingly irksome blend of manufactured quirk and lame sight gags. Hess’s sense of humor has regressed to sub-adolescent levels with Gentlemen Broncos. Defecating snakes breast-puncturing blowdarts and jars of human testicles are just a few of the lowbrow delights that await the brave soul who attempts to make it through a viewing. When Clement returns at the end of the film and mounts a quixotic attempt to rescue it from the mire his heroic effort is sadly for naught: The disastrous fate of Gentleman Broncos was sealed long before.
This was no college like I ever attended! Take three typical high-school seniors--the nerd (Kevin Covais) the good-looking Regular Guy (Drake Bell) and the hell-for-leather go-for-broke Horny Fat Guy (Andy Caldwell)--and let them loose during freshman orientation at fictional Fieldmont University. Just add beer marijuana and wild sex and you’ve got what may well be a new Frat House Classic one that adheres studiously to the tenets of the teen-comedy genre which also includes defying authority and destruction of public property. When it comes to the so-called “guilty pleasures” of 2008 this makes the Dean’s List. Like any good college hangover you’ll hate yourself in the morning--but you’ll still be laughing. Credit an enthusiastic cast and a refreshing (but quite appropriate) disregard for the rules. Drake Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame) who looks far too old to be contemplating a college career is ostensibly the leading man here. Yet the principal selling point of the film is the onscreen camaraderie between he and co-stars Caldwell who plays it full-tilt a la John Belushi and Chris Farley (and that is meant as a compliment) but holds back enough when the ensemble demands require and Covais who all but steals the film with a smart shrewd take on the big-screen geek. A good deal of the film’s energy can be traced directly to them. The whole show is the three boys and they have a great easy rapport that transcends many of the worst trappings of a film like this. They feel like friends and that goes a very long way in a film that in some ways doesn’t deserve so rich an effort but benefits from it nonetheless. College marks the feature debut of director Deb Hagan who manages at times to give the film a fresh visual perspective while maintaining a relaxed but steady momentum. College is neither original nor good but it is enjoyable (far more so than would be expected) and it is fast-paced. It also delivers exactly what it promises. If it’s bang for the buck you want it’s bang for the buck you got when you enroll in College.
The Sundance Film Festival newest indie crown was handed to the drama Forty Shades of Blue, winning the festival's Grand Jury prize on Saturday.
The family drama, directed by Ira Sachs, stars Rip Torn as the aging husband, Dina Korzun as his Russian bride and Darren Burrows as the estranged son whose visit hurls their lives into turmoil.
Director Eugene Jarecki 's Why We Fight claimed the festival's grand-jury prize for documentaries. Ironically, his brother Andrew's acclaimed Capturing the Friedmans won the same award in 2003.
Meanwhile, the festival's Audience Award went to hip-hop film Hustle & Flow, a tale about a two-bit pimp and drug dealer (Terrence Dashon Howard) who enlists an odd assortment of allies in a bid to break into the hip-hop music scene. Written and directed by Craig Brewer, the film also became the most successful film in Sundance history when it was sold to bosses at Paramount Pictures and MTV for $9 million earlier in the week.
Noah Baumbach won awards for writing and directing drama The Squid and the Whale, about kids dealing with their parent's divorce.
Here is a partial list of winners:
Grand Jury Prize Dramatic
Forty Shades of Blue -- director: Ira Sachs
Audience Award American Dramatic
Hustle & Flow -- director/screenwirter: Craig Brewer
Grand Jury Prize Documentary
Why We Fight -- director/screenwriter: Eugene Jarecki
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award
The Squid and the Whale -- director/screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Directing Award Dramatic
The Squid and the Whale -- Director/screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Directing Award Documentary
The Devil and Daniel Johnston -- director: Jeff Feuerzeig
Audience Award World Cinema: Documentary
Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallair -- director: Peter Raymont
Audience Award World Cinema: Dramatic
Brothers -- director: Susanne Bier
Audience Award American Documentary
Murderball -- directors: Henry-Alex Rubin & Dana Adam Shapiro
Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary
Shape of the Moon -- director: Leonard Retel Helmrich
Jury Prize for World Cinema Dramatic
The Hero -- director: Zeze Gamboa
Winona Ryder was charged Friday with one count each of grand theft, commercial burglary, vandalism and possession of a controlled substance, stemming from her Dec. 12 shoplifting arrest at a Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills. According to the Associated Press, prosecutors are also seeking to increase Ryder's bail from $20,000 to $30,000. The 30-year-old actress is due back in court Feb. 8 for arraignment.
The Girl, Interrupted star is accused of trying to lift $4,800 in clothing and accessories from the high-end department store and of carrying the painkiller Oxycodone without a prescription. After her arrest, her attorney Mark Geragos contended that Ryder was just carrying items between store departments and that she had receipts for other items she bought in the store, as well as a valid prescription for the painkillers.
Dubbed as the female equivalent of John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, Mariah Carey (Glitter) is this year's frontrunner for worst actress for the Golden Raspberry Awards, which honor the year's worst films. Preliminary tabulations also show Carey's cleavage may also receive a nod, so to speak, in the worst screen couple category, Ananova.com reports. The full list of Razzie nominations will be announced February 11.
Julia Roberts will appear at the Oscars again this year, but this time as a presenter rather than a nominee. It's the third time Roberts, who won Best Actress last year for her role in Erin Brockovich, has presented. The 74th Academy Awards will take place on March 24 at the new Kodak Theater in Hollywood.
Jamie Foxx, who has a house in Las Vegas, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he may take on the role of Bosley in the Charlie's Angels sequel. Since Bill Murray, who played Bosley in the first film, will not be returning for Charlie's Angels 2, Foxx joked he could replace him as his son, the product of "a hot little night back in the 'hood."
Robert De Niro as fashion plate? An exhibit opening Wednesday at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, will celebrate the various get-ups the actor has worn on screen. Robert De Niro: Costume & Character will trace the actors cinematic ensembles including his leopard skin robe in Raging Bull and the apricot fire-singed suit from Casino, PageSix.com reports.
Hugh Hefner is reportedly looking for an apartment in New York. According to PageSix.com, Hef has enlisted the help of Gordon Golub and Howard Boyar of Citi Habitats to help him with his search. The Playboy king hasn't decided on new digs yet.
According to Nielsen data for Friday and Saturday, NBC is leading early sweeps thanks to strong series performances from Friends and Will & Grace, Variety reports. ABC came in second, thanks in part to Barbara Walters' 20/20 interview with Celine Dion's and Stephen King's Rose Red, with CBS following close behind. Fox came in last, but will probably move into the lead when Sunday's Super Bowl is factored into the February sweeps.
Super Bowl commercials, which sold for an average of just under $2 million for 30 second spots, ran a wide spectrum of topics this year, from fast food to anti-terrorism. Fox said 30 companies bought ads for 37 brands. Brewer Anheuser-Busch was the biggest sponsor with five minutes of ad buys.
NBC's The West Wing has yanked a television spot for this week's episode in which an American reporter is kidnapped, The New York Times reports. The network made the move after viewers pointed out similarities to the abduction of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. NBC has no plans to replace the episode, but will run a new ad focusing on a different angle of the same plot.
Pop star Brandy Norwood secretly married music producer Robert Smith last summer, reports celebrity gossip maven Florence Anthony. The singer and Cover Girl model said in a statement through her record company, Atlantic Records, "I've fallen in love with a very warm, gentle, understanding, and focused person...This summer we married quietly."
Following a two-year break, Celine Dion is getting back to work with a new album and a multimillion dollar Las Vegas performance contract, and is also making plans to have a second baby. According to Reuters, the 33-year-old singer has clinched a deal to sing five nights a week for three years at Caesar's Palace. In an interview with Barbara Walters last Friday, Dion also revealed plans to use a frozen embryo to try for a second child with her manager-husband Rene Angelil after her Las Vegas stint.
Paul McCartney is planning a tour for the first time in 10 years, Reuters reports. In a statement Monday, McCartney announced the Drivin' USA tour will start some time in early April and include 14 concerts in the United States plus one show in Canada.
A tribute to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack featuring Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch and the Soggy Bottom Boys will be among the first musical acts for the 44th annual Grammys, Variety reports. The Dave Matthews Band, 'N Sync, Nelly, U2 and Alicia Keys were previously announced as performers.
Movin' Out, a musical featuring 26 of Billy Joel's songs and instrumental compositions, will begin Broadway performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on September 30, Broadway.com reports. The show is scheduled to play a world premiere engagement at Chicago's Shubert Theatre from June 25 to August 4 before heading to New York.