#252. Will Smith

Much like Jamie Foxx, Will Smith is both a successful musician and actor. While he started out with a career in rap, his most famous role spanned the gap between his music and acting. In the eponymous role of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith made the jump to the small screen that quickly expanded to feature film roles. With a four-year gap from 2008 to 20012, Smith has been acting in films for almost every year since 1992. Even though he’s had a few Oscar nominations, he’s also made a few flops. Of course, Will Smith is not the only one in his family to be a musician and actor. His wife, Jada Pinkett Smith and children, Jaden Smith and Willow Smith, all have careers of their own, oftentimes appearing in films alongside Will. This week’s two films highlight some entries in Will Smith’s acting career.

I, RobotI, Robot
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

Before his brief hiatus from acting, Will Smith delved into producing, going so far as to produce six of the films he starred in before 2008. While I, Robot (2004) was his first foray into this realm, Hitch (2005), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), I Am Legend (2007), Hancock (2008), and Seven Pounds (2008) also bore his mark as producer. Of note is that his portrayal of down-on-his-luck father Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness garnered him his second Oscar nomination, his first having been earned five years earlier for the bio-pic Ali (2001). Unfortunately, not every film he produced was a hit. He won two Golden Raspberries for his acting (both alone and in combination with his son, Jaden) for After Earth (2014), the latest of his films to also be produced by him. This was not due to any inexperience in the science fiction genre, as I, Robot has shown us that he can excel in it.

Chicago police detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is highly suspect of the robots that have permeated every aspect of the modern world. When a robot saved him from a car crash instead of a teenage girl, he developed a grudge against them, distrusting their ability to determine which life to save. While the Three Laws of Robotics are designed to keep humans safe from robots, the mysterious death of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) spurs Spooner on to investigate the robots surrounding the doctor. In the process, he finds that one of the new NS-5 robots named Sonny (Alan Tudyk) has been modified by Dr. Lanning to ignore the Three Laws. This in turn leads Spooner to discover the artificial intelligence known as VIKI, the mastermind behind a robot uprising being developed near Lake Michigan. It’s now up to Spooner to stop VIKI before she eliminates all humans in an execution of the “zeroth law”.

Independence DayIndependence Day
Year: 1996
Rating: PG-13
Length: 145 minutes / 2.42 hours

Right out of the gate, Will Smith was attached to two franchises that helped to cement his name as an actor in Hollywood. In 1995, he starred opposite Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys. Two years later, he would star opposite Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black (1997). With a Men in Black sequel in 2002 and a Bad Boys sequel in 2003, Will Smith was once again a on top of his game. Since then, the third Men in Black installment in 2012 has been his only return to either franchise. Of course, with two Bad Boys sequels set for 2017 and 2019, respectively, Will Smith is ready to continue the franchise. For me, the first film of Will Smith’s that stuck with me was Independence Day (1996), which is unfortunate, because this year’s sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), was notably missing his highly-quotable character.

Marine Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend. One morning he’s called to report to duty as a F/A-18 Hornet pilot to take care of an odd threat that’s appeared all over the world. In battling this alien invasion, Hiller was able to shoot down one of the alien spacecraft. With both him and his foe crash-landed in the desert, Hiller accidentally finds his way to Area 51, where they accept him and the alien specimen. After a nuclear attack fails to damage any of the alien ships, a friend of the President (Bill Pullman), David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) arrives with the solution: upload a virus to the main ship in orbit around the Earth. Despite being turned down by NASA, Hiller’s dream has always been to be an astronaut. When the opportunity arises, he volunteers to take David to the alien mothership to enact Earth’s last plan of survival.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 wonderful Will Smith roles

Bacon #: 2 (Hancock / Mark Simich -> Frost/Nixon / Kevin Bacon)


#142. Jamie Foxx

Comedian, musician, actor. Jamie Foxx is one of Hollywood’s best examples of rising through the ranks to become a well-known and household name, even if it’s his stage name. Working his way up from being a stand-up comedian to a television actor, Jamie Foxx made the jump to the big screen while still working on television. Once he completed the run of his own, eponymous show, Foxx had more time to commit to movies, which meant that, as a result, he landed a few roles in more serious, dramatic films (like Ali (2001) Dreamgirls (2006), and The Soloist (2009)) which propelled him forward toward some amazing performances. Even though he also stars in some popcorn fodder like Stealth (2005), White House Down (2013) and this last summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the fact remains that he’s won an Oscar for his acting. This week’s two films focus on some Jamie Foxx roles.

Year: 2004
Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

If there was a defining year for Jamie Foxx as a movie actor, it would be 2004. In a rare occurrence, Foxx was nominated for two acting Oscars in the same year. While he didn’t win for Best Supporting Actor in Collateral, he did win Best Actor in the bio-pic Ray about the life of Ray Charles. From that point on, all future trailers could market Jamie Foxx as an Academy Award Winning Actor. Of course, there have been many great actors who have yet to win an Oscar, so it’s really saying something when someone wins an Oscar so soon after delving into dramatic roles. And yet, Director Michael Mann saw Foxx’s talent when he cast him in Ali, and continued to cast him after Collateral in Miami Vice. This Director/Actor pairing really pushed Foxx into the spotlight of Hollywood’s elite.

Sometimes we take a job just to earn a living. However, when that job means we’re aiding a hitman, we soon realize that the money he has offered isn’t worth it anymore. Taxi driver Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx) has been driving Vincent (Tom Cruise) around Los Angeles in order to kill six people on his hit list. As the night progresses, Max attempts to stop Vincent on several occasions, even going so far as to destroy the hit list. However, since Vincent wanted Max to maintain his routine for the night, he now has Max’s mother used as leverage in order to get the rest of the list back. Max is helpless as he interfaces with a drug lord to retrieve the last few names, but he is almost saved by a LAPD detective, who is killed by Vincent. After crashing his cab, Max and Vincent race into the subway after the last victim. Will Max save the day, or die trying?

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 165 minutes / 2.75 hours

With his Best Actor Oscar for Ray securing his ability to act in a lead role, Jamie Foxx has seen very few leading roles since then. Aside from being the titular cello player in The Soloist five years later, it took another four years for Foxx to star in an eponymous role. This role was Django. While he has played real-life musicians with certain limitations (blindness in Ray and schizophrenia in The Soloist), he has also been in quite a few action roles (like Stealth and Miami Vice). So when Foxx was cast in a historical action role, you knew he could handle it. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a well-renown Director like Quentin Tarantino behind the helm of this film in order to get Jamie Foxx’s name out there even more. After all, it worked for the careers of Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson before.

In the opening scenes of this film, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys Django (Jamie Foxx) and gives him his freedom in exchange for help on collecting a bounty. After killing the Brittle Brothers (from the aforementioned bounty), Django is trained by Dr. Schultz to become a bounty hunter like himself. This is all done so that Django can rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Unfortunately, Broomhilda is owned by one of the most notorious slave owners of the south: Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). As a result, Dr. Schultz thinks up a plan to get onto Candie’s plantation, Candyland, by pretending to be interested in purchasing a slave fighter known as a Mandingo. Unfortunately, the whole plan is put in jeopardy when the head house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) smells something fishy. Can Django save Broomhilda, or is the whole operation about to explode?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Foxx performances

Bacon #: 2 (Collateral / Tom Cruise -> A Few Good Men / Kevin Bacon)