(Photo by Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection)
Robin Williams earned his big-screen debut as Popeye in 1980 on the the growing popularity of his frenzied, freewheeling stand-up routine, and his literally out-of-this-world role on TV’s Mork & Mindy. Williams’ follow-up, The World According to Garp, was quick to reveal the sensitive artist, the melancholic side to the actor that sought fulfillment in dramatic characters and movies. Of course, it was the ’80s, and the market demanded awful comedies, which Williams was obliged to make until that special breakthrough role that would propel him out of yuppie slapstick. That moment arrived in 1987 with Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam, a box office smash that nabbed Williams his first Oscar nomination and was part and parcel of Reagan-era movies like First Blood and Platoon that re-defined the American perception of the War.
Vietnam kicked off a strong run of critical praise and Academy recognition, as William appeared in Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and The Fisher King one after the other. If comedy was beginning to look like something in the rear view mirror, Williams abruptly shifted gears into family fare, starting with 1991’s Hook, and then Aladdin (a turning point for celebrity voice actors as animated marketing draws), Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Flubber. Williams was everywhere in the ’90s, and it all culminated with the multiple career-launching Good Will Hunting, which got him his final Oscar nomination (he was previously recognized for Fisher King and Dead Poets) and only win.
After flops Bicentennial Man and Jakob the Liar saw him veer hard into sentimentality, Williams re-invented himself as a dark angel in 2002 with Death to Smoochy, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo. Broad comedies (like Old Dogs, Man of the Year, RV, or License to Wed) would still remind audiences of the old eager-to-please Williams, even as they repelled critics. And he could use his pre-conceived image as a genial figure in his favor in ensemble pieces like the Night at the Museum series, Happy Feet, or Lee Daniels’ The Butler. But it was obvious Williams was increasingly drawn to pitch-black comedies and dramas, which ramped up in menace over the course of The Night Listener, World’s Greatest Dad, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, and A Merry Friggin’ Christmas.
Williams’ final on-screen performance was 2015’s Boulevard, and his last voice role featured in 2017 for Absolutely Anything. A Certified Fresh 2018 documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, remains to illuminate more of his life, as we rank all Robin Williams movies by Tomatometer.
The critically-acclaimed, Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men comes to DVD this week, accompanied by a litany of fellow Fresh films (Lake of Fire, Summer Palace, Dan in Real Life) as well as a gaggle of critical duds (Hitman, Bee Movie, August Rush, and more).
Joel and Ethan Coen add another celebrated film to their resume with this four-category Oscar-winning thriller about a bag of stolen cash, a man on the run, the killer on his tail, and the old lawman desperately trying to make sense of it all. While we’ll get no commentary track on this initial DVD release (just wait for the inevitable super-sized special editions), three features comprise the bonus menu, but the film itself is its own reward — just ask those Academy voters.
Jerry Seinfeld‘s bid for post-Seinfeld success came last year in the form of a honeybee: a neurotic, rather Jerry-esque bee named Barry Bee Benson, to be exact, who leaves corporatized hive life for the great big world of humans in New York City’s Central Park. When Barry discovers that humans have been stealing the hard-earned honey of his buzzing brethren, he takes the most American action there is — he sues the human race. With a supporting voice cast that includes Chris Rock, Renee Zellweger, Patrick Warburton, and Matthew Broderick — and cameos by Sting, Ray Liotta, and Oprah Winfrey — Bee Movie is full of that familiar Seinfeld sardonic humor, although, as the critics say, it’s fairly forgettable.
Dan in Real Life
Steve Carell‘s trademark hangdog deadpan finds appropriate anchor in this romantic comedy from Peter Hedges (Pieces of April). Carell stars as Dan, the widowed father of three girls who writes an advice column for a living; when Dan meets his dream girl (Juliette Binoche) during a family get-together, he’s elated — until he learns she’s his brother’s new girlfriend. A soundtrack by Swedish singer-songwriter Sondre Lerch underscores Dan’s comic heartache, though some critics found the script to be occasionally too flat and contrived. A decently packed bonus menu with director commentary, deleted scenes, and outtakes round out the disc.
Freddie Highmore, Britain’s omnipresent kid actor, stars as a musically-gifted orphan on a quest to find his birth parents — and exposure any and every person he meets along the way to the magic of music. Sound schmaltzy enough for you? Well, throw in Robin Williams (channeling his doppelganger, U2 front man Bono) as a musical street pimp named Wizard, salvation in the form of a choir, and lines like “The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen,” and you’ve got one heckuva a saccharine smorgasbord.
If, like some of us, you were an avid fan of the Nancy Drew mystery books — over 170 stories published under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene” since 1930 — then you might have felt some apprehension when a feature-length film about the classic sleuthing teen was announced. Unfortunately for us purists, the reviews confirm those fears. Emma Roberts stars as the titular teen, whose prudish, Type-A manner clashes with the spoiled kids she encounters when she and her dad (Tate Donovan) move to Tinseltown. A Hollywood mystery surfaces, of course, but grown audiences will remain unspooked. I say, bring on the Choose Your Own Adventure movie instead!
The gimmick of casting this cat-and-mouse thriller is intriguing on its own; having starred as a young adulterer opposite Laurence Olivier in 1972’s Sleuth, Michael Caine now plays the older role opposite Jude Law in Kenneth Branagh‘s remake. Unfortunately, the script by Harold Pinter, adapting Anthony Shaffer’s play, fails to serve the two leads well, making for a tedious time — unless you enjoy watching two distinguished British actors out-act one another. Law, Caine, and Branagh make recompense in a jointly recorded commentary track in the special features.
With a title like Hitman, you know what you’re getting into with this video game adaptation from French director Xavier Gens (Frontier(es)). Timothy Olyphant stars as a bar coded professional killer named Number 47 dealing with his sinister bosses, a Russian politico, and a hot prostitute (Olga Kurylenko) on the run. Overwhelmingly derided by the critical set, who might alternately recommend the film to a PS2-obsessed pre-teen boy, Hitman at least serves one purpose: bringing you a closer look at future Bond girl Kurylenko half a year before Quantum of Solace hits theaters.
When Nirvana covered the Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire” in their Unplugged album session, they sang that the Biblical body of water was “where bad folks go when they die.” In his sprawling documentary on abortion, director Tony Kaye brings us a comprehensive look at the often violent, always vehement hot button debate that has raged for 25 years since Roe vs. Wade. Kaye, who filmed the doc over a period of 17 years, is the same director who earned Hollywood’s praise for directing the 1998 skinhead drama American History X (then disappeared from view following his bitter falling out with New Line and star Edward Norton). Be warned that Lake of Fire contains graphic images; a commentary with Kaye accompanies the DVD.
A young rural woman gets accepted to Peking University and encounters sexual awakening, politics, and discontent against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests in controversial director Lou Ye‘s epic drama. Actress Hao Lei gives a brazen performance as the film’s restless protagonist, who spends over two decades (the late 1980s to the 2000s) struggling to get over the lost love of her life. At over two and a half hours, Ye’s film could be split into two stories — one of the young woman and another of her adult years) — but his film captures the zeitgeist of an entire generation forever marked by Tiananmen-era experiences, at times recalling the verve of Godard and the French New Wave. Shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival without government approval, the sexually-explicit film was subsequently banned in China, its filmmakers censured from further filmmaking for a five year span.
So there you have your new releases for this week. In the words of the ancient Romans, “Amicule, deliciae, num is sum qui mentiar tibi?”
When they sit down on January 15th to determine the Best Song nominees for this year’s Oscars, voting members of the Academy’s Music Branch will have plenty of tunes to choose from — 59, to be exact.
While a number of the contenders were written by film-music vets — including Alan Silvestri, Alan Menken, and Diane Warren — this year’s field also boasts submissions by big pop names (John Legend, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer), rock superstars (Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters), and critically beloved songwriters (Marshall Crenshaw, Mike Viola, Dan Bern).
According to Variety, August Rush leads the crowd with four contenders, followed by Dan in Real Life, 56 Drops of Blood, Enchanted, Good Luck Chuck, Into the Wild, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story with three apiece.
On January 15th, the Academy will randomly screen clips featuring each song for voters, who will then have the unenviable task of narrowing the group of 59 down to three, four, or five nominees.
The box office bounced back over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend as
moviegoers spread their dollars across a wide variety of films which
collectively helped to bring the marketplace back to life after a mostly
uneventful fall season. Disney led the way with its new family pic Enchanted,
which ruled the multiplexes, but a surprisingly potent opening for the holiday
comedy This Christmas contributed to the weekend’s success too. Other new
releases were sprinkled across the top ten which virtually matched the
Thanksgiving numbers posted over each of the last two years. An unprecedented
eleven films each grossed $8M or more over the frame as every audience segment
found something to see over the long holiday weekend.
For the first time in eight years, Disney opened a new release at number one
over the turkey frame. The studio’s princess tale Enchanted
powered past all
competitors to bow on top with an estimated $35.3M over the Friday-to-Sunday
period and an incredible $50M across the five-day holiday span which began on
Wednesday. That led to a muscular $9,472 average from an ultrawide 3,730 sites
over three days. The PG-rated story of an animated princess who encounters the
live-action world posted the second biggest five-day opening ever over the
The only hit to debut better was 1999’s
Toy Story 2 from Disney and Pixar with
$80.1M which was also the studio’s last new pic to bow at number one over this
frame. From 1994 to 1999, the Mouse House consistently debuted a new family film
each year at number one over this lucrative holiday frame. Enchanted should have
no problem finding its way into the century club.
Beating expectations to open in the number two spot was the family reunion film
This Christmas which debuted to an estimated $18.6M over three days and a
stunning $27.1M over the five-day period. Sony’s inexpensive $13M production
averaged a potent $10,011 over three days from only 1,858 theaters for the best
average among wide releases. The feel-good holiday pic brought in two-thirds of
its business from African-American moviegoers proving once again how powerful
that audience is at the box office. Look for This Christmas to finish up as a
very profitable venture.
Last week’s top warrior Beowulf
dropped 41% to an estimated $16.2M and landed in
third place. With $56.4M in its treasure chest after ten days, the
$150M-budgeted Paramount release should conclude its domestic run with about
Competing actioner Hitman
debuted in fourth place with an estimated $13M over
three days from 2,458 locations. Averaging a decent $5,303 per venue, the
R-rated film about a super-assassin was adapted from a popular video game. Over
five days, Hitman shot up $21M for Fox which was targeting many of the same
young males that were going to see Beowulf.
The animated hit Bee
Movie followed in fifth with an estimated $12M, off just
14%, for a $112.1M sum to date for Paramount. Warner Bros. was close behind with
rival family offering
which dipped 10% to an estimated $10.7M pushing
the total to $53.1M.
Studio stablemate August Rush opened in seventh place with an estimated $9.4M
over three days and $13.3M across five days. The family drama about a young
musical genius averaged a moderate $4,082 over the Friday-to-Sunday period.
American Gangster remained strong in its fourth frame grossing an estimated
$9.2M, down 29%, upping its cume for Universal to $115.8M.
Two more new wide releases rounded out the top ten. The Mist, a terror tale
based on a Stephen King story, debuted in ninth place with an estimated $9.1M
with a five-day take of $13M. Attacking 2,423 theaters, the R-rated film
averaged a mild $3,740 over three days. Horror films typically do not see huge
numbers over Thanksgiving weekend as most moviegoers are in the mood for more
cheery and upbeat films. Miramax expanded its Coen brothers hit
No Country for
Old Men into nationwide release and captured an estimated $8.1M over three days.
The crime thriller averaged a superb $9,433 and lifted its total to $16.6M.
Opening to solid results from the arthouses was the
Bob Dylan pic
I’m Not There which grossed an estimated $757,000 from just 130 venues over the three-day
period. The Weinstein Co. release averaged a respectable $5,823 per site and
collected $1M over the long holiday session.
The top ten films grossed $141.8M over the weekend which was up less than 1%
from last year when Happy Feet remained at number one with $37M; but off 1% from
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire stayed on top with $54.7M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com
Every year, movie studios get a jump start on turkey Thursday and black Friday by giving audiences a taste of the good stuff two days earlier than usual. This week, we’ve got real-life fairy tales (Enchanted,
starring Amy Adams and
Patrick Dempsey), a deadly fog (The Mist, starring
Thomas Jane and
Marcia Gay Harden), loads of gunplay (Hitman, starring
Timothy Olyphant), musical families
Keri Russell), yuletide conflict (This Christmas,
starring Delroy Lindo), and the latest from
the Coen Brothers
(No Country for Old Men, starring
Javier Bardem and
What do the critics have to say?
Sort of a Wizard of Oz in reverse,
Enchanted is the story of
Giselle (Amy Adams), a princess in an animated magical kingdom who’s transported to the
streets of Manhattan by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon). There, she meets a
kindly lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) and attempts to negotiate the line between
fantasy and reality. The pundits say Enchanted lives up to its title,
featuring sharp gags, excellent animation, and a smart re-imagining of
fairy-tale tropes. But they hold out the highest praise for Adams, a sharp scene
stealer who makes the most of her top billing here. At 89 percent on the
Tomatometer, Enchanted is bewitching.
springs forth from the collective minds of author
Stephen King and
director Frank Darabont, the winning
combination that’s previously brought us
The Shawshank Redemption and
The Green Mile. But
in their latest collaboration the two take a decidedly horrific bent: A small
town is terrorized by a group of deadly creatures lurking in a particularly
thick fog. Could a top-secret experiment at a nearby military base have anything
to do with it? Critics are less ecstatic with The Mist than previous King/Darabont
joints: they say the chills and thrills are there, and Darabont valiantly
attempts for a psychological depth rarely seen in horror, but he frequently
comes off as didactic and heavy-handed. At 69 percent Tomatometer, the gold shines through in The Mist. (Read our interview with the Mist cast and crew here.)
Timothy Olyphant as an accomplished assassin named 47 who
stumbles into the midst of some political intrigue and goes on the run.
Considering the well-publicized news of Hitman’s reshoots and its origin
as a video game, it’s no surprise that the movie isn’t sitting well
with the critics. They call it vulgar, gratuitously violent, too reliant on CG
to propel the action, and just an overall dizzying blur of explosions and
bullets — the usual barbs critics reserve for video game adaptations, and
stuff that gets gamers off the couch and into the theaters. At 14 percent on the Tomatometer, looks like it’s game over,
In August Rush, an orphan (Freddie
Highmore) runs away to New York,
where an overseer of young musicians (Robin Williams) recognizes
his guitar skills. As it turns out, the orphan was the product of a one-night
stand between a cellist (Keri Russell) and a singer-songwriter (Jonathan Rhys
Meyers), whom he now hopes to reunite. It’s a fairly absurd premise but the
performers give it their all, and goes a long way to overcome
sentimental and cloying direction. At 58 percent on the Tomatometer, August
Rush hits a sickly sweet note. (Read our interview with Freddie Highmore here.)
It’s time for another Christmas movie in which each member of a dysfunctional family brings
plenty of baggage with them to the yuletide festivities. Bah, humbug, right? Not
so fast. Critics say
This Christmas is a delightful surprise, a solid
dramedy that, in lesser hands, could have been chaotic and mawkish. In Christmas
the members of the Whitfield clan returns home, setting off a maelstrom of
unresolved tensions and revelations. The pundits say director
Whitmore II takes a variety of contrived plotines and deftly weaves them together with wit and
finesse, and the cast, which features such excellent thespians as
Idris Elba, and
Mekhi Phifer, is never less than stellar. At 65
percent on the Tomatometer, This Christmas is a pleasant gift.
With No Country for Old Men, the
Coen Brothers return to the moral
ambiguity, black humor, and horrifying violence that reverberated throughout
some of their best work, movies like
Blood Simple and
Fargo. And critics say
that’s a very, very good thing.
stars as a psychopathic killer on the trail of an average Joe (Josh Brolin) who stumbles
across a huge sum of money. The pundits say No Country is a triumph:
grim, suspenseful, frightening, and loaded with pitch-perfect performances. At
96 percent on the No Country for Old Men is not only Certified Fresh, it’s one
of the best-reviewed films of the year and trails only Blood Simple
within the brothers’ filmography. (Check out our Total Recall feature on the Coens’ filmography
Also opening this week in limited release:
The Red Balloon,
Lamorisse‘s French children’s classic, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer;
Out in the Evening, about a relationship between a solitary novelist and a
grad student starring
Frank Langella and
Lauren Ambrose, is at 93 percent;
I’m Not There, an unconventional biopic of Bob Dylan starring
Heath Ledger, and
Richard Gere, is at 76 percent; Everything’s Cool, a personal documentary about global warming, is at 60 percent;
and Nina’s Heavenly Delights, a culture-clash rom-com, is at zero
Freddie Highmore‘s big-screen breakthrough, alongside Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in the J.M. Barrie biopic Finding Neverland may not have been his first role – he’s been acting since he was seven – but it was the start of a busy few years for the young actor, working with directors Tim Burton, Ridley Scott and Luc Besson and actors Albert Finney, Kenneth Branagh and Mia Farrow. Now, at fifteen, his career shows no sign of slowing down as he get ready to provide his voice to Lyra’s daemon in The Golden Compass and take on the dual role of the Grace brothers in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of The Spiderwick Chronicles. On the eve of the release of his latest, August Rush, alongside Robin Williams and Keri Russell, Rotten Tomatoes caught up with Highmore to find out more.
How did you hear about August Rush?
Freddie Highmore: I think it was about a year beforehand it all started trying to get together. I read the script and thought it was great and in the end it all worked out.
You’ve had a busy few years; is it difficult to schedule in the ones that you want to do?
FH: Kind-of, I mean, it’s not like every day there’s another person asking me to be in something! But I’ve definitely been very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to get different films that I’ve wanted to get.
What was it about this one that made you want to do it?
FH: For every different role you play it’s nice to have different challenges for each one. So for August Rush it was doing an American accent for the first time and also the whole musical side – learning to conduct, to play the organ and to play guitar.
So you did get to learn to do all of those for real then?
FH: I did, yeah, I learnt them all. I thought it was better to learn them and do them properly. The American accent you obviously had to do, and do it well, but for all the other things I thought it was important not to just mime along and look like you’re doing it but to really do it. So they could use my fingers and it was me the whole time playing and conducting. I think you could tell otherwise if I just stood up and waved my arms around of if I just slapped the guitar any old how. I think it looks better when you do it for real.
Are they things you’d like to pursue? Are we going to see a new career in conducting and guitar playing?
FH: [laughs] No! I mean, I’ve kept the guitar up a little bit, but not the conducting. I haven’t gone out every weekend to conduct some orchestra!
You got to spend a lot of time working with Robin Williams on the film; what’s he like to work with?
FH: He’s great; it’s just like having a conversation when you’re doing a scene with him really. It’s just so relaxed on the set whenever he’s around. Also he’s just always telling jokes; he’s always on. It must be funny for him though because he must think everyone’s brain goes so much slower than his. He’s working overtime on all these different ideas that pop into his head. Everyone else must feel miles behind!
So it’s a bit of a challenge to keep up with him sometimes?
FH: It’s OK whenever you’re doing a scene but I’m sure he just feels I’m really slow and boring when he’s so entertaining!
How did you enjoy shooting on location in New York?
FH: New York was fantastic. We were there for three months or so and we had this apartment near Central Park so we could just go out for walks in the park. Just to be there and soak up the atmosphere of New York was amazing. It’s just a really great, great, great city.
We’re very excited about The Spiderwick Chronicles – what can you tell us about that?
FH: The Spiderwick Chronicles comes out next year, and I get to play twins in it – two characters – so it’s been fun to differentiate between them. If you don’t know, it’s basically about three kids who go into the country and when they’re there they discover this unseen world that surrounds them.
I’m two of the three kids. Just the idea that they started out as the same person and yet they’ve changed and become different has been exciting. And it’s not like one’s really bad and one’s really nice, you know, people support both the twins, so it’s more subtle.
It’d be fun to play a baddie one day though. Just a really nasty person who everyone just hates!
So you’re keeping an eye out for those scripts then!
FH: [laughs] Absolutely! It’d be good fun to do different characters every time.
Is there anything else you’re keeping an eye out for that you’ve not done before?
FH: To be honest, I think there are plenty of things other than acting I’d like to do. Travelling would be fun, and I guess even doing other things in the film business, like directing, would be great. Whatever comes along is the way I think about it; I’d just feel lucky to get to do another film.
Do you think Charlie will ever come back to screen?
FH: I don’t think so. I was thinking about that, but then if it was in an elevator for the whole time it wouldn’t be very interesting, just sort-of floating around in one big glass elevator.
But working with Johnny was brilliant. Everyone I’ve worked with has been first rate, but Johnny particularly has been really inspirational in that he’s so normal and down-to-earth with everyone. He doesn’t think of himself as better. He’s also just a fabulous actor so I’d like to work with him again.