A Southerner, Harling moved to New York to pursue a theatrical career after first obtaining a law degree. He landed work in regional theater and as a voice-over artist for radio and TV commercials bef...
Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
In casual conversation, Matthew Modine happily slips into anecdotes involving his past collaborators. It's not name dropping — he's passionate about the people who helped shape him as an actor, who continue to shape him. When his casting in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises comes up, the actor points to the ideology of one his most respected directors. "Robert Altman [who worked with Modine on Short Cuts] said directing a movie … 90% of it is in the casting. If you look at Robert Altman's films over the years, his most tremendous successes were in really wonderful casting. The films that didn't work so well, it was casting that was inappropriate. I have no idea why Christopher Nolan chose me for the role. Other than the fact that, perhaps, he wanted to work with me."
Nolan is a director who shrugs off the obvious Hollywood casting choices in favor of the right casting choices. His past is full of inspired picks: Gary Oldman in Batman Begins, David Bowie in The Prestige, Tom Berenger in Inception — known actors who don't scream "blockbuster." Modine fits the bill, a great actor capable of bouncing among many types of projects with relative ease, but who may not be the obvious pick for the third installment of a Batman movie. "Chris Nolan expressed interest in me and suggested I put myself on tape and submit it to him," says Modine, recalling his first talks with the director. "I live in New York City, he lives in Los Angeles. I've been in this profession for a long time, and my feeling was that it wasn't Christopher Nolan questioning my abilities, it was Christopher Nolan testing my interest. So I didn't believe putting myself on tape was the appropriate way to have an opportunity like this. I flew myself to Los Angeles to meet with him on my own expense. Which was really good, because the part that was sent to me was, in fact, the wrong part." Yes, even Hollywood is prone to goofs. "It was the first thing he said to me when I came in the room. He said, 'oh no, this is the wrong part!' So I went to having a good part to having a very good part. Besides the fact that it was worth the trip to meet Christopher Nolan, it was worth the trip to discover the opportunity to play a much bigger role."
Having worked with both legendary and fresh-faced directors on projects big and small, Nolan stands out to Modine as a man who knows exactly what he wants, ready to convey that vision with unique language. "There were funny directions he gave me that I've never received from any director in the 30 years I've been doing it," says Modine. Attempting to explain Nolan's style (while avoiding spoilers — Modine sees that Dark Knight Rises NDA looming in the background), the actor compares the work to a moment from his past with another great filmmaker. "It was kind of like one that Stanley Kubrick had given me after a take. Stanley came over, pulled on his beard, looked down at his shoes, with his chin down looking up at me in my face, said, 'Matthew, you're not going to do it that way, are you?' [Laughs] And it's one of my favorite directions."
The Nolan/Kubrick comparison has been made by film critics and movie buffs alike, but Modine isn't quick to relate the two. "Their view on life is quite different. That's a circumstance of time." Whereas Kubrick grew up post-World War II, Modine believes that the "the cynicism of the Vietnam Era and the wars in Afghanistan" shaped Nolan's sensibilities. "Those wars kind of distort the world we live in, the politics of the world we live in, and the lives that exist in the world. They're shaped by them."
While they're children of different eras, Modine's time with both directors has given him insight into their commonalities. "The one similarity that Kubrick and Nolan share are there enthusiasm for filmmaking. The fact that they're on the set while the film is being made. Stanley Kubrick operated the camera almost 90% of the time we were making Full Metal Jacket, and so he was there, on the set, in the scene with the actors, participating by operating the camera. Christopher Nolan stands beside the camera and listens and pays attention and hears what the actors are saying. He has a wicked sense of humor. That may sound like, 'oh, of course the director is on set by the camera,' but most directors today don't. They set in the video village, the thing that's set up away from set, and they watch the movie on a television screen. They're not really engaged or participating in the performance."
For Modine, what makes directors like Kubrick and Nolan so fantastic is that their sets are like independent films. On The Dark Knight Rises set, it would routinely be only a handful of people — including Nolan, Director of Photography Wally Pfister, the 1st AD, and the sound guy — on the actual shooting set. "There's an army of people outside doing prep work and follow up and post-production, but on the set, you never feel like there's more than three or four people making decisions. Because they've worked together so many times, there's a shorthand language and they know when they're ready to move on to the next scene. That's refreshing."
Nolan's approach to big budget filmmaking is wildly different than blockbusters of eras past — a style of filmmaking Modine knows well from his time on 1995's Cutthroat Island, which he cites as a great experience. "It was a pirate movie, something I had a great time participating in. But it was a production that was like trying to grab the tail of dragon and hold on." Modine admits it was difficult to pick up the reigns after original star Michael Douglas left that production, and that the personal relationship between Renny Harling and Geena Davis was an obvious hurdle. "It was one of those instances where… I don't know how that prayer goes with Alcoholics Anonymous where you say, something like, 'God grant me the strength to accept the things I can't and the wisdom to control the things I can.' So my wisdom said, 'Do what you can to make your experience the best that you can and do the best in all of the scenes you're involved in.'"
Modine finds it hard to compare Nolan's reality-first mentality to the past. "There's no comparison. The difference, is you have a director, his producing partner (his wife [Emma Thomas]), his brother who wrote the script, and a very tight crew — it wasn't someone trying to hold the tail of the dragon, it was someone who was on the back of the dragon, telling the dragon where to go." Unlike Cutthroat Island, a movie shot almost entirely on stages, Nolan's methodology pushed him to take Batman into the grand, but recognizable world. "With The Dark Knight Rises, the reason we shot in so many different countries and different locations, because what Nolan wasn't interested in was creating artificial environments," says Modine. "He wanted to go to spectacular environments that actually exist. Monolithic human constructions. Tunnels into the Earth, amazing geographic locations. He wasn't interested in creating an artificial world, he was interested in exploiting the one we share. "
Having dabbled in what will easily be one of the biggest movies of the past decade — if not of all time — Modine has no problem scaling things down for indie work. His next project is Jobs, the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher in which the actor plays former Pepsi Co VP and Apple CEO John Sculley. To better define Sculley, Modine is looking at both the big and small picture. "You want to try and understand the man. The word of advertising, the manipulation of consumers. Why people consume things. It's extraordinary when you start to study the psychology of consumerism and the people who create these fears in us that make us believe if we don't consume something, our lives are incomplete. I guess Mad Men explores that — though I haven't really watched Mad Men. But the psychology of sales is a great science."
But just looking at the surface level of accomplishments isn't enough for Modine to really capture Sculley has a person. "A thing Robert Altman taught me when he made the movie Vincent & Theo. The letters between Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo are amazing letters of love, desperation, and frustration. He said, 'Think about the letters you've sent your family over the years. You're either exaggerating, or lying, or you're making people feel sympathy and sorrow for you.' So you can't just read the letters and say, 'Oh, you have to take this for fact, because that's what was written down on the paper.'" Modine's drive as an actor is to find out what makes a larger-than-life figure personable, real. "So if I read Steve Jobs' book, an amazing compilation of facts and figures that this person has put together, but what I have to find, the director has to find, what Ashton Kutcher has to find, is what's inside those facts and figures. The mistake people make with biopics is suddenly they think they're character doesn't s**t, have sexual desires. They don't make them human."
Immersing himself in both the history and personal elements of Sculley has already helped Modine tinker with the script for Jobs. "That psychology of advertising has exposed something, some dialogue that I had in the script, something that someone as smart as John Scully is, would never say," says Modine. "There was a line that said, 'You can't sell people things they don't want.' Well, that's advertising 101. You would never say that — not someone who was the head of Pepsi Co. for as long as he was. That's why Steve Jobs wanted him to come run Apple. Of course you sell people things they don't want!"
With years of great performing behind him, Modine is still excited to be part of something as gigantic and influential as The Dark Knight Rises. Few of his movies have been embraced by the masses quite like Batman, fandom already showing its face with Photoshopped posters featuring the actor. "It's the best! First it was Bane, Batman and Catwoman, but the fans decided that Modine deserved a poster. It was the first one!" Modine knows he's not the star of the show, but he's humble to be apart of the ensemble. "It's exciting to be on board such an enormous vehicle."
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The big-screen remake of hit 1970s TV show Dallas is in more jeopardy after losing most of its cast and the original screenplay.
When the film was first announced, stars like Jennifer Lopez, John Travolta, Luke Wilson and Shirley MacLaine were reportedly on board, but now only Travolta remains attached.
Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha is currently due to direct Dallas after Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic dropped out over casting differences.
The script, written by Robert Harling, was rumored to be a hard-hitting, dramatic take on the classic TV show, but it has been dumped after disappointing test screenings.
According to reports, filmmakers conducted focus groups with small audiences in the Midwest, and producers decided it needed more laughs, which called for an entirely new, slapstick comedy script.
The film is now being rewritten as "a show-within-a-show" comedy, which is being compared to the remake of Bewitched, starring Nicole Kidman.
One source tells the New York Post's Page Six, "The script totally sucks."
Shooting was originally scheduled to start this month, but none of the major roles, except Travolta as J.R. Ewing, have been cast.
One insider adds, "It'll be a miracle if this film ever gets made."
Those connected with the project have been told filming won't begin until January when Travolta completes shooting the big-screen version of Hairspray.
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Julianne Moore plays Audrey Woods an undefeated divorce attorney whose neurotic need for junk food and impossibly hip mom (Frances Fisher) might be the reasons for why she's been single all her 35 years (in Hollywood logic anyway). While marching into a particularly messy divorce case she meets Daniel Rafferty (Pierce Brosnan) a slovenly but damn sexy divorce attorney who also has never lost a case in spite of his seemingly precarious methods. He's immediately smitten but she's uptight or in denial or a combination of the two even after they get drunk a half an hour into the film and fall into bed. Oops. They find themselves at battle when Audrey courts a kooky but famous dress designer getting a divorce (Parker Posey) who opts to hire Daniel as her laywer leading an infuriated Audrey to take on the philandering rock star husband as her client. While Audrey and Daniel compete they scope out the estranged couple's biggest asset--a glorious castle in Ireland. In Lucky Charm land where everything is apparently a party the attorneys loosen up at a local festival dancing jigs and getting drunk again. This time they not only sleep with each other but get married! Disaster! What to do?
Moore has so far been the queen of torment specializing in women who've suffered from maladies ranging from cocaine addiction (Boogie Nights) severe environmental allergies (Safe) and repressed lesbianism (The Hours). Maybe she wanted to take a vacation from the dark side by tackling a character who's biggest problem is her Cheetos consumption but more likely she thought playing (gasp!) funny would further prove her acting mettle. But getting laughs is a lot tougher than it looks if you're good and really really tough looking if you're not. Awkwardly stumbling through this fifth-rate screwball comedy Moore is positively tragic thudding out one-liners with the grace of a wounded deer. The breezy Brosnan fares better only because his ingratiating lilt and calm demeanor makes him at least charming though when in one "funny" scene he picks a fleck of food off her face puts in his mouth and utters the name of a Hostess product ("Snowball...")--even he can't make that sexy.
Director Peter Howitt attempts to capture the sparkle and magic of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy specifically their legal screwball Adam's Rib but considering this is the same director who un-funnied Rowan Atkinson in the abysmal Johnny English why anyone would trust him with such a feat is baffling. Maybe it was his other hilarious film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow that convinced 'em. Right. Working with the ham-fisted screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling (if we are to assume this is the actual first draft) Howitt directs with little distinction other than managing to make the typically side-splitting Parker Posey barely half hearted. Though there are a few moments that garner a mini giggle Laws of Attraction is lazy and at 90 minutes lumbering. Howitt's idea of humor is placing a Hostess pastry in front of the luminous Moore and making James Bond work in a sloppy office (Get it? Yeah…). In the famous words of a five-year-old it's so funny we forgot to laugh.
After death of his sister Susan of complications from diabetes, wrote play "Steel Magnolias"
Play produced at WPA Theater off-off-Broadway; moved to Lucille Lortel Theater off-Broadway
Moved to Natchitoches, LA with family in his teens
Wrote screenplay of ensemble comedy "Soapdish"
Penned screenplay of "The First Wives Club," starring Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton, and based on novel by Olivia Goldsmith
Worked his way through law school at Tulane University by singing with a big band, Jubiliation, and acting in local theater
Wrote screenplay of romantic comedy "Laws of Attraction," starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore
Ray Stark purchased screen rights to "Steel Magnolias"
Feature debut as screenwriter, "Steel Magnolias"; character of Shelby (Julia Roberts) was based on his sister
Made feature directorial debut with "The Evening Star," sequel to 1983 hit "Terms of Endearment"; also adapted screenplay from Larry McMurtry's novel
Made TV series debut as creator and executive producer of "GCB" (ABC)
Family moved to Natchitoches, LA when he was 12
A Southerner, Harling moved to New York to pursue a theatrical career after first obtaining a law degree. He landed work in regional theater and as a voice-over artist for radio and TV commercials before turning to writing. When his sister Susan died of complications from diabetes, he was inspired to write his first play, "Steel Magnolias". The effort impressed Kyle Renick at the off-off-Broadway WPA Theater enough to produce it where it received strong notices and transferred to a healthy off-Broadway run. Producer Ray Stark purchased the screen rights and Harling set about adapting the piece. The finished film directed by Herbert Ross (1989) was notable for its cast: Oscar-winners Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis, and, in the role inspired by the author's sister, Julia Roberts who gave a warm and winning performance. Harling himself played a small role in the film as the minister who presides at Roberts' wedding. Harling wrote the hilarious spoof "Soapdish" (1991) which reteamed him with Sally Field, as a soap opera diva whose off-screen life was as outrageous as her onscreen one. He also adapted "The First Wives Club" (1996) and made his directorial debut later that same year with "The Evening Star", based on Larry McMurtry's novel.
died of complications from diabetes; inspiration for character of Shelby in his play "Steel Magnolias"
Northwestern State University of Louisiana
"Shelby is the most special character to me because she's based on my sister, and I wrote the play [that later became the movie] about her. Julia walked in and, being from the South, she flashed that smile, and the world instantly became a better place. I said, 'You know, this is her. This is the one to carry the spirit of my sister.' And I look back, and it's ironic that it took the biggest star in the world to create the most special person I've ever known." - Harling on "Steel Magnolias," quoted in Entertainment Weekly, April 20/27, 2012