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.
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day dominated the Thanksgiving box office with 007 placing first for the five day holiday period and Harry topping the three day chart.
Die enjoyed the biggest five day (Wed.-Sun.) slice of box office pie with $46.3 million versus Harry's $45.8 million. For three days (Fri.- Sun.), Harry led with $32.2 million versus Die's $31.0 million.
Santa Clause 2 came down the chimney in third place with a jolly $17.2 million for five days.
Treasure Planet kicked off slowly in fourth place with $16.5 million for five days.
Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights opened calmly in fifth to $15.1 million for five days.
Thanksgiving's biggest grosses, however, weren't at the box office but at cash registers across the country as Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment sold seven million units of Ice Age, which went into DVD and video release last Tuesday.
Ice Age, a leading contender in this year's Oscar race for best animated feature, took in approximately $120 million from last Tuesday through Sunday (a five day period because retail stores were closed Thursday for Thanksgiving), according to Fox Home Entertainment.
Ice Age's gross in DVD and video actually exceeded the box office take for the holiday weekend's top three films, which together grossed about $109.3 million for five days.
Thanksgiving's three other wide theatrical openings were all box office leftovers -- Solaris with $9.5 million, Wes Craven Presents: They with $8 million and Extreme Ops with $3.1 million.
Driven by the Bond and Potter franchises, key films grossed $210.8 million for five days, up about 1.7 percent from last Thanksgiving (Nov. 21-25, 2001) when key films did $207.2 million.
THE TOP TEN
(NOTE: Today's films are ranked according to their estimates for the FIVE-DAY Thanksgiving holiday period from Wednesday through Sunday. Percentage variations do not apply because the previous weekend was a normal three-day weekend. Estimates for the three-day period from Friday through Sunday are indicated parenthetically.)
MGM and United Artists' PG-13 rated action adventure thriller Die Another Day, the 20th of the studio's Bond epics, led the five-day box office in its second week with an ESTIMATED $46.29 million at 3,324 theaters (+10 theaters; $13,924 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.6 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $31.0 million.)
Die's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release over the five day holiday period.
Directed by Lee Tamahori and produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, it stars Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry.
The last Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, opened Nov. 19-21, 1999 to $35.52 million at 3,163 theaters ($11,230 per theater) and went on to gross $126.9 million in domestic theaters and $225.1 million in international theaters for a worldwide total of $352 million. Die continues to look like it should out-perform Enough.
"It's amazing for a Bond," MGM senior vice president, publicity Eric Kops said Sunday morning. "The record to $100 million for a Bond is something like 23 or 26 days (so it's terrific) to do it in 10 days. Everyone's ecstatic!"
Warner Bros.' PG rated sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets held on to second place in its third week with a still magical ESTIMATED $45.8 million at 3,682 theaters (theater count unchanged; $12,440 per theater). Its cume is approximately $200.2 million, reaching that milestone number in just 17 days. The first film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, hit $200 million in 15 days. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $32.17 million.)
Directed by Chris Columbus, it stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.
"It continues to be the first choice of all family moviegoers," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It's playing to all demographics. It's consistent with the first Potter. The only difference is the better audience reactions. This enables us to gross extremely well throughout the balance of the holiday (season)."
Asked if he sees Secrets getting to $300 million in domestic theaters, Fellman replied, "I think we have a really good shot at it." The first in the series got to nearly $318 million domestically.
When Secrets opened there were those who doubted it would do much more than $200 million. What does Fellman say to them now? "Harry Potter continues to be a cultural phenomenon," he said. "Its audience base is obviously growing. They loved the first movie. They couldn't wait to see the second. They like the second better than the first. I think there's a tremendous anticipation already for number three (which opens) in June of 2004."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated comedy sequel Santa Clause 2 rose one rung to third place in its fifth week, showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $17.2 million at 2,526 theaters (-725 theaters; $6,808 per theater). Its cume is approximately $113.9 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $12.3 million.)
Directed by Michael Lembeck, it stars Tim Allen.
"When you add these two (films) together, it is a very good number," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning, referring to the nearly $34 million that Disney grossed with Santa Clause 2 and Treasure Planet together. "It's not particularly the way I expected it would play out, but at the same time it's a great family market and we've got a lot of the holiday ahead of us so I'll look forward to that."
Looking at Santa 2, Viane observed that the sequel "looks so much like the original, which aged very, very well as it got closer and closer to (Christmas). We're looking forward to some big weekends ahead."
Where is Santa heading in domestic theaters? "I think conservatively it's probably somewhere between $130-140 million. Once we get closer, we'll hone in on it, but certainly there's more than 15 million bucks in it. This weekend was so good, you've just got to look ahead and say there is the possibility of getting to the next plateau. I'm really hoping that's what will happen."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated sci-fi adventure Treasure Planet opened fourth with less box office treasure than hoped for, grossing an ESTIMATED $16.5 million at 3,227 theaters ($5,108 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $11.9 million.)
Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, its screenplay is by Ron Clements and John Musker.
"Treasure opened softer than we expected," BV's Chuck Viane said. "At the same time, when you (look at) the CinemaScores and you get four A's and two B-pluses, you've got to look forward and say that like Santa Clause this is probably going to be in the market for a long time and certainly with the holidays coming up it can only get better for us.
"It was a great holiday weekend in total and you've just got to assume that in the eventuality of everything we'll get our numbers. I look at pictures like Greek Wedding and The Ring and neither one of them stormed out of the gate and yet they are both such wonderfully successful films. I hope that's the category we'll be in."
Columbia's PG-13 rated animated musical Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights kicked off calmly in fifth place with an ESTIMATED $15.1 million at 2,503 theaters ($6,013 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $10.1 million.)
Directed by Seth Kearsley, it was produced by Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo and Allen Covert.
"It's a $34 million negative. Obviously, by animated standards it's really inexpensive," Sony Pictures Entertainment vice chairman Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"We had a lot of fun with the movie and it looks like we're going to end up well on it. I certainly would think we're going to get to $40 million at least and (that means) we make money. And it was a lot of fun to do. I think (Sandler) had fun doing it. It was something different. I think it was a good experience for everybody and one that will make us money."
New Line Cinema's R rated comedy sequel Friday After Next slid three slots to sixth place in its second week with an okay ESTIMATED $11.03 million at 1,621 theaters (+5 theaters; $6,801 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.6 million.(Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $7.75 million.)
Directed by Marcus Raboy, it stars Ice Cube and Mike Epps.
Twentieth Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment's PG-13 rated sci-fi adventure Solaris got off to a disappointing start, opening in seventh place to an ESTIMATED $9.45 million at 2,406 theaters ($3,928 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $6.78 million.)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it stars George Clooney.
"It was well reviewed," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, assessing the results. "Maybe (it's) too intelligent, too slick."
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's R rated drama 8 Mile fell three pegs to eighth place in its fourth week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $8.51 million at 2,498 theaters (-87 theaters; $3,408 per theater). Its cume is approximately $107.6 million, heading for $120 million. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $5.9 million.)
Directed by Curtis Hanson and produced by Brian Grazer, it stars Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy and Mekhi Phifer.
Miramax's Dimension Films opened its PG-13 horror film Wes Craven Presents: They in ninth place to a soft ESTIMATED $8.0 million at 1,615 theaters ($2,589 per theater). (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $5.2 million.)
Directed by Robert Harmon, it was written by Brendan William Hood.
Miramax said They was "a North American acquisition for $4 million."
Rounding out the Top Ten was DreamWorks' PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring, down three rungs in its seventh week with an okay ESTIMATED $7.8 million at 1,912 theaters (-716 theaters; $4,087 per theater). Its cume is approximately $120.0 million, heading for $135 million.(Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $5.5 million.)
Directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.
Thanksgiving weekend also saw IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding drop out of the Top Ten. Wedding fell three slots to eleventh place in its 33rd week, still performing very well with an ESTIMATED $5.5 million at 1,257 theaters (-328 theaters; $4,379 per theater). Its cume is approximately $210.7 million, heading for $225 million or more in domestic theaters. (Its ESTIMATED gross for three days is $4.1 million.)
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Paramount's PG-13 rated action film Extreme Ops to an extremely soft ESTIMATED $3.1 million at 1,800 theaters ($1,722 per theater).
Directed by Christian Duguay, it stars Devon Sawa.
Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures held 424 well attended sneak previews Friday of their PG-13 rated romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan.
Directed by Wayne Wang, Maid stars Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes.
"They were 90 percent of capacity (and) about 85 percent of them were completely sold out," Sony Pictures Entertainment vice chairman Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"Over 50 percent of the attendees rated it excellent, which was great. It was 60-40 female to male. We were surprised how many men attended, particularly young couples, and how many men rated it excellent. We think we've got the real feel good romantic movie for Christmas.
"It's one of those that if we get the younger and older females, which we did get a good mix of ages at the sneaks, and get men to go as a couple (with wives or girlfriends), we're going to be in great shape. And that's certainly how the sneaks look. I think everybody comes out of it just feeling great and it's a great ensemble romantic comedy."
After Friday's strong sneaks, Blake said, "We're very encouraged. We're going to sneak it again next Saturday (Dec. 7) in about 800 theaters. And then we open in about 2,500 theaters Dec. 13."
On the expansion front this weekend Focus Features' PG-13 rated drama Far From Heaven went wider in its fourth week with a still solid ESTIMATED $2.1 million at 284 theaters (+25 theaters; $7,505 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.6 million.
Directed by Todd Haynes, it stars Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert.
Samuel Goldwyn Films' R rated drama El Crimen del Padre Amaro expanded in is third week to a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.9 million at 108 theaters (+22 theaters; $8,172 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.5 million.
Directed by Carlos Carrera, it stars Gael Garcia Bernal and is the official Mexican entry in this year's best foreign language film Oscar race.
Miramax's R rated drama Ararat widened in its third week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.38 million at 33 theaters (+19 theaters; $11,364 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, it stars David Alpay, Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver and Marie-Josee Croze.
Artisan Entertainment's PG rated documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown expanded in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.3 million at 54 theaters (+18 theaters; $5,224 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
Directed by Paul Justman, it tells the story of the Funk Brothers, the legendary musicians who were Motown's back-up band on the tons of hit records the label produced in Detroit in the early '60s.
United Artists' R rated drama Personal Velocity, released via MGM, added theaters in its second week with a still encouraging ESTIMATED $58,000 at 5 theaters (+3 theaters; $11,600 per theater). Its cume is approximately $94,000.
Directed by Rebecca Miller, it stars Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk. Velocity won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
THANKSGIVING BOX OFFICE HISTORY
Looking back to 1990 indicates that the Thanksgiving marketplace has soared over the years, becoming one of Hollywood's happiest holidays. From their 1990 level of about $112 million, Thanksgiving ticket sales peaked at over $238 million in 2000. They slipped back in 2001 by about 13 percent to a still sizable $207 million. This year they were up about 1.7 percent from 2001 with an ESTIMATED $210.8 million.
On a year-by-year basis, here's a look at how Hollywood has sliced its Thanksgiving box office pie:
In 2001 key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more for five days -- took in $207.2 million.
Warner Bros. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was first with $82.4 million. Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar's Monsters, Inc. was second with $32.5 million. Universal and Beacon Pictures' Spy Game opened in third place to $30.6 million. 20th Century Fox's Black Knight opened in fourth place to $15.4 million. Fox's Shallow Hal was fifth with $12.1 million.
In 2000, key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more for five days -- took in $238.7 million.
Universal's Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas was first with $73.5 million. Buena Vista's opening of Unbreakable was second with $46.0 million. Buena Vista's 102 Dalmatians opened in third place with $26.2 million. Paramount's Rugrats in Paris: The Movie was fourth with $22.5 million. Columbia's Charlie's Angels finished fifth with $13.5 million.
In 1999, key films took in $218.9 million. Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar's animated sequel Toy Story 2 led the pack with $80.1 million. MGM/UA's James Bond sequel The World Is Not Enough was second with $34 million. Universal's Arnold Schwarzenegger epic End of Days opened in third place to $31.5 million. Paramount's Sleepy Hollow from director Tim Burton was fourth with $26.9 million. Warner Bros.' animated Pokemon rounded out the Top Five with $9.1 million.
In 1998, key films grossed $176.9 million, led by Buena Vista's A Bug's Life with $45.7 million.
In 1997, key films took in $147.2 million, led by Buena Vista's Flubber with $35.9 million.
In 1996, key films did $146.5 million, led by Buena Vista's 101 Dalmatians with $45.1 million.
In 1995, key films collected $154.3 million, led by Buena Vista's Toy Story with $39.1 million.
In 1994, key films earned $134.8 million, led by Buena Vista's The Santa Clause with $27.4 million.
In 1993, key films grossed $106.8 million, led by 20th Century Fox's Mrs. Doubtfire with $27.6 million.
In 1992, key films took in $134.2 million, led by 20th Century Fox's Home Alone 2: Lost in New York with $39.0 million.
In 1991, key films did $97.7 million, led by Paramount's The Addams Family with $27.8 million.
In 1990, key films took in $111.7 million, led by 20th Century Fox's Home Alone with $28.7 million.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $210.76 million for the five day Thanksgiving holiday period, up about 1.73 percent from last year's five day Thanksgiving weekend when they totaled $207.17 million. Comparisons to last weekend of this year are not valid because last weekend was a normal three-day weekend.