"Return to form" is a phrase frequently tossed at the upcoming pilot drama, "Flight." It's not intended for the film's star, Denzel Washington; he's been on his A-game for about two decades now.
Nope, it's for director Robert Zemeckis. In the '80s and '90s, he was one of America's top directors, winning a Best Director Oscar in 1995. But then the new millennium hit, and Zemeckis hitched his creative wagon to the wrong horse, i.e. creepy motion capture movies like "The Polar Express" and "A Christmas Carol."
But why linger on those technological terrors? Let's look back at five films that show why Zemeckis' legacy deserves better than "the producer behind 'Mars Needs Moms.'"
"What Lies Beneath"
While Hollywood struggles today with making decent horror movies, it would be advised to head to Netflix and try out Zemeckis' 2000 domestic thriller "What Lies Beneath." The Harrison Ford-Michelle Pfeiffer film is a classic ghost story; in fact, much of the movie functions as a pretty clever tribute to the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Similar to last year's "Super 8," sometimes the movie gets too in love with being an homage, which cuts back on the story's freshness, and the ending gets a bit goofy. However, it's not very often you see a horror flick as tautly directed as "What Lies Beneath." Just look at the horror options this year.
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" can be enjoyed by almost anyone at almost any age. If you're a kid, you can enjoy "Roger Rabbit" for the zany animation-meets-human hijinks. When you grow up, it's fun to watch Zemeckis' film for the clever jokes and the film noir story. And if you're a film nerd, you can enjoy it for its revolutionary ability to get animation to interact so realistically with reality. Zemeckis always had an eye for technological wizardry; it's just too bad he thought the soulless faces of animated motion capture were the way to go.
That isn't to say that "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is a perfect film; it's admittedly pretty dark and unpleasant at points, and in a post-"Avatar" world, it doesn't look quite as good as it once did. But in a world with four "Shreks," four "Ice Ages," three "Madagascars" and countless other talking animal features, you won't see many kids movies quite like it.
If you're going to make a movie that mostly consists of one guy sitting on a beach alone, trying to survive while slowly going insane, you'd better cast an actor audiences are willing to stick around with. Enter Tom Hanks, and enter "Cast Away" onto this list. True, the film's final act seems to go on forever, but it takes a pretty impressive tandem of actor and director to make a guy stuck on a deserted island riveting and touching entertainment for almost two hours (without involving smoke monsters, hatches and countless flashbacks).
Much like any Oscar winner, there's been a decent amount of backlash toward Zemeckis' "Forrest Gump." A lot of it is probably based on the fact that it beat out both "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Pulp Fiction" for Best Picture. For one, the Oscars are entirely arbitrary; they do not decide what is good or better. They're a glorified conversation starter. And second, we should just be happy "Pulp Fiction" got nominated considering the Academy's legacy of being consistently behind the times.
Anyway, where was I? Yes, "Forrest Gump." No, it's not the most realistic film ever created (how does he conveniently participate in all of these important American events? Screenwriter logic, that's how), but I like to look at the film like a Greek epic, sending a character through the annals of history. In that regard, it's a brilliantly crafted journey featuring some pitch perfect performances, not just from Hanks but Gary Sinise, as well.
"Back to the Future"
Zemeckis' 1985 science fiction classic is pop culture made perfectly. Sometimes, everything comes together just right. The casting (Eric Stoltz was the star for four weeks of shooting before they fatefully switched over to Michael J. Fox), the performances, the special effects, the characters, the direction and the story meld together so flawlessly that the results become indelibly engrained in our collective mind. There's really no science to it, and the magic can't be duplicated.
"Part II" and "Part III" are entertaining enough, but neither can really match the effortless charm and energy of the original. It proves that, every now and then, Hollywood can do its job pretty damn well.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Sept. 1, 2014
Butch Vig has a lot on his plate. He just finished wrapping up a new nation-spanning Foo Fighters album, and he's heading back into the studio to start recording a new Garbage album. However, tucked away in that packed schedule is just enough time to head back to Milwaukee for the upcoming Yellow Phone Music Conference.
Published Aug. 31, 2014
That's it. I've had it. I've had enough. Game over, man, game over. Sure, there was a time when found footage was a fun novelty, back in the original days of "Cloverfield" and the first couple of "Paranormal Activity" films. But now, movies like "As Above, So Below" just show what a waste the gimmick truly is.
Published Aug. 29, 2014
The dynamic duo is returning to its home away from home next weekend, with a show on Friday, Sept. 5 at The Pabst Theater (moved from its original location at the Cactus Club after it sold out). And they're coming back with gallons of deservedly good press, an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" and the deafening buzz of a band obviously on the rise.
Published Aug. 29, 2014
"The Doyle & Debbie Show," the season opener for the Milwaukee Rep, is making history. "Is this the first time a toilet's been on the Stackner stage? Probably," said JC Clementz, the show's director. The prop potty, however, nicely sets the tone for "The Doyle & Debbie Show," a goofy Christopher Guest-esque parody about a washed-up country duo.
Published Aug. 27, 2014
"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" - Robert Rodriguez's hyper-stylized and hyper-violent hyper-noir - has many, many sins of its own to contemplate and consider, the most glaring of which perhaps being a severe case of tardiness. Then again, even if it was perfectly on time, "A Dame to Kill For" would still feel just as relentlessly grim, one-note and pointless.
Published Aug. 26, 2014
For about half of the year, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band calls its New Orleans namesake home, playing bright brassy jazz to the residents of the Big Easy. For the other half of the year, however, the legendary jazz band brings that cajun flavor and music across the country to cities needing a little extra kick.
Published Aug. 25, 2014
Yes, the expected dopey melodrama finds its way into "If I Stay," but it mostly plays second fiddle to an above average relationship drama, one with seemingly real characters (well, real for a teen romance) coping with seemingly real issues and problems. I didn't mind having to spend time with these dreamy young people, which is a lot more than I can say about anything Nicholas Sparks has done lately.
Published Aug. 23, 2014
There is good news for guitarist/vocalist Andrew Foys and Milwaukee music fans who landed squarely on "hated it" when it came to his band's previous name, Elusive Parallelograms: the name has run its course. The multi-genre spanning psychedelic rock band recently underwent a "reboot," kicking the old moniker to the curb and reintroducing themselves as Tapebenders - complete with an upcoming new album.
Published Aug. 21, 2014
Late night is looking bright, as the Milwaukee Film Festival announced its 2014 selections for its Cinema Hooligante program, a midnight mix for fans of all things cult, crazed and - considering the after bedtime showings - caffeinated.
Published Aug. 21, 2014
About 20 years later, Jeff Bridges has finally gotten "The Giver" to the big screen, and for a project with clearly some passion behind it, the final result is bafflingly inert, as though the film itself has been sampling the characters' daily emotional sedation.