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.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D has a lot of things working against it from the get go. It's based on a video game franchise that debuted in 1999 has been milked for sequels ever since (the current total of Silent Hill games is nine) and the movie itself is a sequel to the disappointingly dumb 2006 film directed by Christophe Gans. What's more the bitter aftertaste of Resident Evil: Retribution is still lingering in the mouths of survival horror movie/gamers and although they have entirely different plots and take place in totally different universes that's not necessarily enough to take the edge off for weary viewers.
It would take a dazzling director with a stellar cast and a first-rate script to overcome those sorts of obstacles and Silent Hill doesn't have any of those things. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett is obviously fond of both video games and horror (his previous movies include Solomon Kane and Deathwatch) the cast is decent with some exceptions and the script… well it's better than Resident Evil. If anything we can give Bassett credit for his enthusiasm. You really can't win when you try and make a video game movie no matter how many hours you spent playing Doom as a teen. Whether that's at the hands of the studios or the creative teams themselves isn't clear; it's simply a nut that hasn't been cracked yet.
The good news is that you don't really need a grasp on the video game or previous movie's narrative to follow the Revelation's plot. Harry (Sean Bean) has been lying to his daughter Heather (Adelaide Clemens) for a very long time. He's convinced her that her dreams about a terrible place called Silent Hill are the longstanding effects of a car crash that killed her mother and that they have to move around and take on new identities all the time because he killed a prowler in self-defense. Heather has other problems like the occasional hallucinations about a terrible alternate universe that's populated by monsters and industrial junk and flickering lights. One minute she'll be doing something normal and then suddenly the walls are burning down to the rafters and something with a butt for a face is shambling towards her. It's a raw deal.
Heather's first day at her new school is not that great; she meets a cute guy named Vincent (Kit Harington) who wants to be buddies but she makes it clear she's pretty bad ass and not one to pal around since she'll just be leaving town again anyway. When she comes home from school her dad has disappeared and the living room is a huge mess. If she wasn't clear on what to do next someone used his blood to write "COME TO SILENT HILL" on the wall with a funky sigil next to it which matches this weird object she's had since she was little. Luckily Vincent has a car and more than a few troubling secrets of his own underneath those glossy brown curls. He offers to drive her and off they go. Typical chitchat between them is about the nature of reality and dreams and Vincent's batty grandfather who's locked up in an insane asylum.
This is where things get really convoluted. Silent Hill is indeed a terrible place where ash falls from the sky during the day and horrible things come out to menace any townsperson dumb enough to be out at night. It's an eerie world that comes close to the truly terrifying Silent Hill games on occasion. After a while though it's mostly just Heather and occasionally Vincent running around in what seems like mazes of rusty bloody walls with the occasional gruesome monster popping out to halfheartedly menace them.
There's a dash of The Wicker Man here with the requisite creepy sacrificial cult and some Hellraiser-esque torture thrown in but it stops short of being a full-blown Clive Barker nightmare. There is some gore and disturbing images but the choice to use practical effects for almost all of the monsters is far more impressive in theory. Those monsters look okay from afar but rubbery up close whereas the only CGI monster is an impressive spidery thing made up of doll parts. The use of strobe lights and other effects is absolutely maddening especially in conjunction with the 3D which is mostly used for cheap gimmicks like splashing blood at the viewer.
There's something oddly satisfying about the way that the movie follows the trajectory of a video game; it's even laid out like a video game universe with different goals and bosses at each location. The problem is that what is believable or acceptable in a video game doesn't necessarily translate to a movie — in a game you're busy solving puzzles and killing monsters and it's easier to overlook kitchen-sink plots. Even though the movie doesn't completely hew to the game's story it's got the same mentality that more is better when it's really just more. And the more that's piled on the more ridiculous it gets. When everything is at a fever pitch that kind of weirdness becomes a baseline and nothing is shocking. Unlike in the games there's just one ending no matter how you play it.
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]
The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.
Hollywood is destined for one big hit this weekend and one monumental miss. Marvel Studios is about to demonstrate that Iron Man (Paramount) was no fluke while M. Night Shyamalan’s career seems headed for another disaster of mythic proportions.
Marvel has audaciously re-booted Incredible Hulk (Universal) just five years after Ang Lee’s brooding version of the big green guy met with a lukewarm reception. The newly-minted studio has added the word Incredible to the title, bringing on Transporter director Louis Leterrier and Academy Award nominee Edward Norton, and they are essentially ignoring the 2003 film. Rabid fanboys who have seen the new version are literally ‘eating it up’ and, surprisingly, critics seem to like it, too. Incredible Hulk is rated 73 percent Fresh as of Thursday night on Rotten Tomatoes and the new superhero pic is rated 69 percent Positive at MetaCritic.
I went out on a limb with Iron Man and called for a $100M opening weekend (the movie fell just short at $98.61M), but Incredible Hulk will not get near that number (although I subscribe to William Goldman’s show business adage ‘Nobody knows anything’). Hardcore comic book fans and Marvel junkies are buzzing about $70M or $80M or even higher. Industry tracking and the marketplace just do not support numbers that big.
My sources tell me that Incredible Hulk is currently tracking in the double digits in Un-Aided Awareness, but lower than Iron Man at the same point in its marketing cycle. The new Incredible Hulk has Total Awareness of 95 percent+ in all four quadrants, but that is because everyone knows the big green monster. In the most important tracking data, Iron Man opened with an astounding 54 percent Definite Interest and a 40 percent First Choice score compared to Definite Interest in the low 40’s and First Choice in the high 20s for Incredible Hulk.
Also, the Louis Leterrier-directed comic book movie is opening in a crowded marketplace. Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda (Paramount) will hold very strongly, especially with kids, Adam Sandler’s You Don't Mess with the Zohan could score another $18M, Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) continues to play well with family audiences and a few hapless moviegoers will stumble in to see The Happening (Fox).
Universal is telling all who will listen that they will be very happy with $45M and long legs, but I think Incredible Hulk will be slightly more “incredible.” My final call is for $55M-$60M, and that will be a very good opening. In fact, that would make Incredible Hulk one of the Top 10 comic book adaptations of all-time.
ALL-TIME TOP 20 OPENINGS FOR COMIC BOOK ADAPTATIONS
1. Spider-Man 3: $151.11M
2. Spider-Man: $114.84M
3. X-Men: The Last Stand: $102.75M
4. Iron Man: $98.61M
5. Spider-Man 2: $88.15M
6. X2: X-Men United: $85.55M
7. 300: $70.88M
8. Hulk (2003): $62.12M
9. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: $60.23M
10. Fantastic Four: $56.06M
11. X-Men: $54.47M
12. Batman Forever: $52.78M
13. Superman Returns: $52.53M
14. Men in Black II: $52.14M
15. Men in Black: $51.06M
16. Batman Begins: $48.74M
17. Batman Returns: $45.68M
18. Ghost Rider: $45.38M
19. Batman & Robin: $42.87M
20. Batman: $40.48M
Incredible Hulk will also be a new career-best for Leterrier, whose previous-best was Transporter 2, which opened to $16.54M and finished with a $43M domestic cume. Plus, it will easily be the best opening ever for an Edward Norton film.
ALL-TIME BEST EDWARD NORTON OPENINGS
1. Red Dragon: $36.54M
2. Kingdom of Heaven: $19.63M
3. The Italian Job: $19.45M
4. The Score: $19.01M
5. Fight Club: $11.03M
Ang Lee's Hulk opened to $62.12M, but played out with a miserable 2.12 multiple for $132.17M (the multiple is established by dividing the total domestic box office by the opening weekend). With excellent reviews and positive word-of-mouth, there is no reason why a multiple of at least 2.75 would not apply to Incredible Hulk, pushing the movie to $150M-$165M domestic.
It will be almost impossible for Shyamalan’s The Happening to defy terrible industry tracking and even worse reviews (15 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and 40 percent Positive on MetaCritic). It is easy to take shots at the Indian-born, Philadelphia-raised director. After making what might be one of the finest movies of all-time, The Sixth Sense, he has struggled. It is tempting to say that Shyamalan is to film what Dexy’s Midnight Runners is to the recording business. The Sixth Sense is his "Come On Eileen."
M. NIGHT RESUME
1998: Wide Awake; $96,000 opening; $282,000 domestic
1999: The Sixth Sense; $26.68M opening; $293.5M cume
2000: Unbreakable; $30.33M opening; $95M cume
2002: Signs; $60.11M opening; $227.96M cume
2004: The Village; $50.74M opening; $114.19M cume
2006: Lady in the Water; $18M opening; $42.28M cume
That is, however, very unfair. I, for one, loved Unbreakable, which had a subtle ‘twist’ that I never saw coming. Then came Signs, which was solid and scary until the silly ending. Shyamalan derailed, for me, with The Village. Twenty minutes in I wanted to stand up and say, ‘It’s present day.’ I think he began to lose fans with The Village, and 2006’s Lady in the Water, which was self-indulgent and painful to watch, scared away his remaining supporters.
It seems to me that Shyamalan is in the same position that Orson Welles was in after he co-wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane. Welles was just 25, and it must be daunting for your first film to be deemed a masterpiece. After Citizen Kane, despite occasional flashes of genius like A Touch of Evil, which he adapted, starred in and directed, he had nowhere to go but down.
I am not comparing The Sixth Sense to Citizen Kane, but M. Night Shyamalan was 32 when he was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for that supernatural thriller. It is also the 27th-best grossing film of all-time with $293.5M and over $670M worldwide. It cannot be easy for him wonder if he will ever reach those heights again. And, let’s be honest. After, arguably, the biggest twist in film history, can M. Night Shyamalan ever truly surprise an audience again’
I will be stunned if The Happening tops $25M this weekend. The reviews are not entirely negative, so I am putting this one in the $18M-$23M range.
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE JUNE 13 WEEKEND
1. Incredible Hulk - $57.75M
2. Kung Fu Panda - $37.9M
3. The Happening (Fox) - $20M
4. Sex and the City (Warner Bros) - $13.2M
5. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull (Paramount) - $13M
6. The Strangers (Rogue) - $5M
7. Iron Man (Paramount) - $4.5M
8. Prince Caspian (Disney) - $3.2M
9. What Happens in Vegas (Fox) - $1.9M
10. The Visitor (Overture) - $425,000