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.
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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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
The romantic action comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like nothing — and if you’re a person between the age of approximately 18 to 35 everything — you’ve seen before. British director Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead Hot Fuzz) adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel is so densely laden with pop-culture references it often times feels less like a movie than a mixtape. Those who share the tastes of the film’s 31-year-old writer and 35-year-old director will find the experience to be exhilarating; those who don’t however will likely be at a loss to comprehend what all the fuss is about.
The list of ‘80s and ‘90s video game nods in Pilgrim alone is daunting: Tekken Super Mario Bros. Tetris Zelda and even retro titles like Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man are represented just to name a few. To fit all of it in Wright must practically invent a brand-new kind of filmmaking. Using techniques and iconography culled from the holy fanboy triumvirate of comic books video games and anime/manga and armed with a clearly generous effects budget he splatters the screen with a dazzling array of CGI visual aids as the action unfolds: informational pop-ups supply key details on each character as they are introduced; words like “Boom!” and “Pow!” burst forth when blows are landed during fight sequences; a “Level Up!” graphic indicating increased levels of key character attributes appears after the film’s hero triumphs in battle. Even the old Universal Studios logo has been revamped by Wright rendered in the rudimentary graphics and sound of the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Call it easter-egg filmmaking.
At the center of this digital maelstrom is Scott Pilgrim a 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif played by 22-year-old Canadian hipster waif Michael Cera. Unemployed and in no great rush to find work he splits his time evenly between jamming with his middling band Sex Bob-Omb (a Super Mario Bros. reference) combing thrift shops for new additions to his near-limitless collection of ironic t-shirts and pining for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a beguiling New York City emigre whose signature attribute is her constantly-changing hair color.
After a few abortive encounters Scott finally gets Ramona to reciprocate his affections. Thus begins the quest — or "campaign " as gamers call it — portion of the film as Scott soon discovers that in order to secure Ramona’s hand he must defeat each of her seven evil exes (six boys and one girl) in spontaneous death matches of decreasing novelty. (A few of them could easily have been excised without harming the narrative but that might invite the ire of comic book fans who typically demand nothing less than absolute adherence to the source text.) With a variety of found power-ups and an entirely implausible collection of fancy kung-fu moves he faces off against among others a pompous vegan straight-edge (Brandon Routh) a self-absorbed action star (Chris Evans) a spiteful lesbian (Mae Whitman) and a smarmy record producer (Jason Schwartzman).
I expect Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will polarize audiences and not just because of Wright’s distinctively dizzying directorial style. (Which I thoroughly enjoyed even though it occasionally overdoses on manufactured quirk and is a bit too proud of its cleverness.) The film glosses over Scott and Ramona’s wooing process in its rush to commence with its succession of comic-book battles which grow somewhat tedious toward the end. It’s simply assumed that Ramona would fall for our protagonist as it’s likewise assumed that we already have. But not everyone will embrace Scott’s castrati hipster affect which too often comes across as grating rather than charming. (The movie’s funniest moments come courtesy of Scott’s sassy gay roommate played by Kieran Culkin who is never without a clever barb for his lovelorn pal.) And beneath Cera’s self-effacing sheen exists an unmistakable whiff of pretentiousness that isn’t entirely justified — at least not yet. Far less debatable is the appeal of Winstead whose spunky Ramona appears every bit worth the hassle of fending off seven or more ex-lovers.
God knows what she sees in him.
SUNDAY 9:00 a.m. (Pacific): Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway both have new all-time best opening weekends as Get Smart (Warner Bros) has scored an excellent $39.15M. The action-comedy delivered an estimated $13.5M on opening day, was up 5 percent on Saturday for $14.2M, and Warner Bros is anticipating an $11.45M Sunday.
For Carell , who steps into the shoes of Don Adams from the late '60s TV hit, Get Smart tops his previous best opening Evan Almighty.
ALL-TIME BEST STEVE CARELL LIVE ACTION OPENING WEEKENDS
1. Get Smart - $40M (estimate)
2. Evan Almighty - $31.19M
3. Anchorman - $28.41M
4. The 40 Year-Old Virgin - $21.42M
5. Dan in Real Life - $11.8M
For Hathaway, the Peter Segal-directed comedy eclipses 2006's The Devil Wears Prada.
ALL-TIME BEST ANNE HATHAWAY OPENING WEEKENDS
1. Get Smart - $40M (estimate)
2. The Devil Wears Prada - $27.53M
3. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement - $22.95M
4. The Princess Diaries - $22.86M
5. Ella Enchanted - $6.16M
The world of television has meant big dollars for Warner Bros this summer, first with the mega-hit Sex and the City and now Get Smart, which becomes the all-time fourth-best live action TV adaptation (non-sequel).
ALL-TIME BEST OPENINGS FOR LIVE-ACTION TV ADAPTATIONS (excluding sequels)
1. Sex and the City - $57.03M
2. Mission: Impossible - $45.43M
3. Charlie's Angels - $40.12M
4. Get Smart - $40M (estimate)
5. S.W.A.T. - $37M
6. The Dukes of Hazzard - $30.67M
7. The X-Files - $30.13M
8. Starsky & Hutch - $28.1M
9. Wild, Wild West - $27.68M
10. Addams Family - $24.23M
There was much less box-office love for Mike Myers' new comedy Love Guru (Paramount), which will likely finish No. 4 for the day and for the weekend. The film has limped out of the gate with a disappointing $5M, and, even with the help of recording superstar Justin Timberlake and Jessica Alba, the poorly reviewed comedy will manage only $14M on its opening weekend. After back-to-back-to-back $100M+, and most likely $200M+, grossing movies, this represents a setback for Paramount (although the Dreamworks comedy Tropic Thunder, set for August, has a chance to be the biggest hit of the late-summer).
Myers' first non-Shrek movie since 2003's The Cat In the Hat will probably be only the fifth-best opening of his career.
ALL-TIME BEST LIVE ACTION MIKE MYERS OPENINGS
1. Austin Powers 3: Goldmember - $73M
2. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me - $54.91M
3. The Cat in the Hat - $38.32M
4. Wayne's World - $18.12M
5. Love Guru - $14M (estimate)
Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks/Paramount), in its final pre-Wall-E (Disney) weekend, scored another $21.7M Friday-thru-Sunday and is headed for an estimated new cume of $155M+. Industry sources are telling me that Panda will likely finish its domestic run with $230M-$240M, which would be a spectacular showing.
Marvel's Incredible Hulk (Universal) has dipped over 60 percent to the No. 3 spot with only about $21.55M for its second weekend. After 10 days, the re-booted Edward Norton Hulk debut will be at about $96.5M domestic, putting it slightly behind the pace of Ang Lee's version of the big green guy from five years ago.
M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening (Fox) fell 67 percent to an estimated $10M on its second weekend. The fifth place finish edges the R-rated genre pic just over $50M domestic.
The best Per Theatre Average posted was for Picturehouse's Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, starring Abigail Breslin. At just five locations, the tween girl-fueled G-rated film generated over $44,000 per location as it prepares to go wide on July 2.
REVISED THREE-DAY ESTIMATES
1. NEW! Get Smart (Warner Bros) - $39.1 million, $10,012 PTA, $39.1 million cume
2. Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks) - $21.7 million, $5,354 PTA, $155.5 million cume
3. Incredible Hulk (Universal) - $21.5 million, $6,145 PTA, $96.4 million cume
4. NEW! The Love Guru (Paramount) - $14 million, $4,648 PTA, $14 million cume
5. The Happening (Fox) - $10 million, $3,4349 PTA, $50.2 million cume
6. Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) - $8.4 million, $2,653 PTA, $290.8 million cume
7. You Don't Mess with the Zohan (Sony) - $7.2 million, $2,196 PTA, $84 million cume
8. Sex and the City (Warner Bros.) - $6.4 million, $2,6647 PTA $132.3 million cume
9. Iron Man (Paramount) - $4 million, $2,093 PTA, $304.7 million cume
10. The Strangers (Rogue Releasing) - $1.9 million, $1,235 PTA, $49.5 million cume
Sideways star Paul Giamatti will play second president John Adams in a mini-series produced by Oscar winner Tom Hanks.
The seven-episode mini-series is being made for HBO and is based on David McCullough’s best-selling book John Adams.
Giamatti will play Adams before he became the president and was a Massachusetts lawyer working behind the scenes to mobilize a revolt of the colonies, which led to the American Revolution.
The book was also partly based on letters between Adams and wife Abigail, which will also be included in the mini-series.
The project will begin shooting in Virginia in January and will be broadcast in March 2008.
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