If the railway thriller Unstoppable looks familiar it’s only because its director Tony Scott and star Denzel Washington partnered just over a year ago on another railway thriller The Taking of Pelham 123. In Unstoppable the train is granted a bigger slice of the narrative pie than it received in Pelham serving not only as the film’s principal setting but also its primary villain. Stocked with a payload of dangerous chemicals Train 777 (that’s one more evil than 666!) hurtles unmanned towards a calamitous rendezvous with the helpless residents of Stanton Pennsylvania. Surely an upgrade over a hammy John Travolta no?
On whom can we depend to put a stop to this massive killing machine this “missile the size of the Chrysler Building ” in the ominous words of Rosario Dawson’s station dispatcher? Not the entry-level clods (Ethan Suplee and T.J. Miller) whose ineptitude originally set the train on its fateful path. (In a chilling testament to the potential dangers posed by the obesity epidemic a chunky Suplee runs to catch up with the coasting train in the hopes of triggering its emergency brake before it leaves the station only to collapse in a wheezing heap unsuccessful.) Certainly not their supervisor (Kevin Dunn) a middle-management goon more concerned with impressing his corporate superiors than ensuring proper rail safety. And most definitely not the parent company’s feckless golf-playing (the nerve!) CEO whose disaster-containment strategy is dictated purely by stock price.
No sooner or later the burden of heroism must fall on the capable shoulders of our man Denzel. As Frank Barnes a resolutely competent locomotive engineer on a routine training assignment with a reluctant apprentice (Chris Pine unshaven) he emerges as the only force capable of preventing the Train of Doom from reaching its grisly destination. Of course in any train-related emergency such as the one depicted in Unstoppable a litany of things must go wrong before the task of averting disaster becomes the sole responsibility of the engineer of another train. And screenwriter Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard) trooper that he is takes care to cycle through every single one of them lest we question the believability of such a scenario. Because believability is so important in films like this.
Denzel’s most formidable foe in Unstoppable it turns out is his own director. As an alleged “old-school” filmmaker Tony Scott largely eschews the usage of CGI but he embraces almost every other fashionable action-movie gimmick occasionally to nauseating effect. When the camera isn’t jostling about or zooming in and out jarringly it’s wheeling at breakneck speed across a dolly track; countless circling shots of key dialogue exchanges give the impression that we’re eavesdropping on these conversations from a helicopter. No static shots are allowed and cuts are quick and relentless giving us nary a moment to catch our breath or recover our equilibrium.
These are the tactics of an insecure director one with startlingly little faith in his material or his performers. As Unstoppable nears it climax we’re invested in the action not because of the incessant play-by-play of the TV reporters who’ve converged on the scene — a ploy mandated by Scott’s frantic style which by this point has left the story teetering on incoherence — but because of our almost accidental bond with the film’s protagonists who despite the director’s best efforts have managed to make just enough of an imprint on our consciousness that we’d prefer they not perish in a fiery train wreck.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Jan. 28, 2000 - Jacqueline Susann was the queen of flashy trash -- the first literary pop star of the modern p.r. age. And Hollywood is putting her in the spotlight today with the opening of "Isn't She Great," a Susann biopic starring Bette Midler. It's a comic look at the woman behind "Valley of the Dolls" -- the once-shocking novel filled with every tawdry Tinseltown element its author could muster.
"Dolls" was published in February 1966, replete with pill-popping, sex-crazed movie stars in a tragic vein (a central trio transparently based Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Ethel Merman). Susann's husband, former radio producer Irving Mansfield (played by Nathan Lane in the film), put together a whirlwind promotional tour which sent the book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list by May. "Valley of the Dolls" held that No. 1 position for 28 consecutive weeks.
Susann, who died in 1974 of cancer, once said: "All the people in my books, the ones who are glamorous, or beautiful, or rich or talented -- they have to suffer, see, because that way the people who read me can get off the subway and go home feeling better about their own crappy lives, luckier than the people they've been reading about."
In honor of Susann's grasp of the glamorous and the tragic, here's a quick list of fateful film figures, both in and out of the pages of author Jacqueline Susann. The real-life "Valley of the Dolls," per se:
Few celebrity deaths ever generated as much noise as Monroe's apparent suicide at the age of 36. Her body was discovered in the bed of her Brentwood home, where she had succumbed to a massive dose of sleeping pills.
Thanks to the big MGM family, Garland began playing with "dolls" in her teens: she used pills to go to sleep, pills to stay awake, and even more pills to suppress her appetite. Is it any wonder she began seeing psychoanalysts at the age of 21? Or that her death in 1969 at age 45, officially described as accidental overdose of sleeping pills, came in the wake of a number of suicide attempts?
MGM producer Paul Bern took his own life barely two months after marrying the "blonde bombshell" in 1932. His death note read, in part: "Dearest Dear: Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. You understand that last night was only a comedy." Harlow died five years later, of cerebral edema, after becoming seriously ill during the filming of "Saratoga."
Was the casting of Hayward in the film version of "Dolls" hitting a little close to home? In 1955, she received hospital treatment after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She died in 1975 at age 56 after battling a brain tumor for two years.
Famous for her peek-a-boo bangs, Lake shot to the top of Paramount's female roster in the early 1940s, but faded quickly when she cropped the style in support of the nation's war effort. By 1951, Lake had declared bankruptcy. At the low point of her career, in 1962, the New York Post spotted Lake, with hair pulled back, working as a barmaid at the Martha Washington Hotel in New York.
LILLIAN "PEG" ENTWHISTLE
She's probably the least known of tragic Hollywood figures, but her life played out just like the quintessential Hollywood tragedy. A stage actress who couldn't make a go of it in the movies, Entwhistle climbed to the top of the "H" in the Hollywood sign and leapt to her death.