"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 Oct. 22, 2014
For many in America, ramen is almost exclusively college dorm food, something quick and easy to make when the times are desperate and the money (or perhaps just the initiative) is low. Recently, however, ramen's reputation has begun to lose its college res hall stink in American culture.
Published Oct. 22, 2014
As the rare tank-based WWII action movie, Ayer's latest decently satisfies. When "Fury" tries to be anything more, however, the story's treading gets gummed up, and the effective machine loses steam.
Published Oct. 21, 2014
In early 2012, music fans found themselves entranced by two hypnotically romantic pop songs cryptically released onto YouTube. The songs were gorgeous, a dreamy high voice with just a touch of smokiness crooning intimate lyrics over seductively simple electronic arrangements. Everyone just wanted to know who was responsible. It was an impressive little indie music mystery ... especially since it was essentially an accident.
Published Oct. 20, 2014
In 2012, comedian Tig Notaro went through a series of intense, significant personal crises that would be overwhelming in a four-year stretch, much less in merely four months. In a matter of a few months, Notaro faced a break-up, a sudden death in the family and two potentially fatal ailments. And in the middle of all of that, she had a stand-up gig at Largo in Los Angeles. The rest, as the cliché says, is history.
Published Oct. 16, 2014
A little over a decade ago, Milwaukee musician and Testa Rosa lead vocalist Betty Blexrud-Strigens got a chance to see the legendary Patti Smith in Madison. Even though the show came quite some time after Smith's punk glory years, Blexrud-Strigens still remembers the rock legend providing a charge. Now, it's up to Blexrud-Strigens and a roster of Milwaukee artists and musicians to bring that essence back to the stage with "Smith Uncovered."
Published Oct. 15, 2014
After three years, The Rural Alberta Advantage is taking a new album on the road, including a return stop at Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee.com chatted with the band's drummer Paul Banwatt about the process behind "Mended with Gold," looking back at the band's past and spending some time in a creepy Canadian cabin. And, of course, hockey.
Published Oct. 14, 2014
Judged as awards bait, "Kill the Messenger" won't likely snag the golden glory it's looking for. Once you remove the arbitrary frame of awards season, "Kill the Messenger" is a solid, satisfyingly unpredictable and well performed journalism drama that - following the lead of "Shattered Glass" and, of course, "All the President's Men" - often plays like a tense thriller.
Published Oct. 13, 2014
At the end of the month, the Milwaukee Public Museum will celebrate the fall - as well as its current "Alien Worlds and Androids" exhibit - with a Sci-Fi Film Fest. Every Thursday and Saturday (save for Thanksgiving) from Oct. 23 through Nov. 29, the museum will screen a sci-fi flick in the Dome Theater.
Published Oct. 12, 2014
How does one stretch a barely 30-page short story of accumulated gripes and grumbles into a feature length film? In the case of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," the answer is simple: poorly. By the time its 82-minute running time comes to a grateful close - and all of the cliché, contrived and crude chaos with it - Alexander's bad day has morphed into the audience's bad day.
Published Oct. 10, 2014
Few bands have come out of the gates as strongly as Milwaukee's own Field Report. So it's safe to say the bar was set high for Field Report's eventual sophomore attempt, one nicely cleared by "Marigolden," released Tuesday, Oct. 7.