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.
The best way to go into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is to think of it as the first film in a brand new franchise; a franchise in which mermaids love men zombies won’t eat you and a Fountain of Youth exists but all laws of logic reasoning and competent storytelling don’t. Although screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were smart enough to sever the narrative ties to the first two sequels in their franchise’s fourth outing the latest swashbuckling adventure in the series shares most of the same faults its predecessors faced.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) steps in for Gore Verbinski in On Stranger Tides but you’ll be hard-pressed to find his contributions to the already-flashy film that finds our hero Capt. Jack Sparrow (the inimitable Johnny Depp) on the hunt for the fore mentioned fountain. Of course he’s not the only one looking for eternal life: also in tow are nameless stereotypical Spaniards the English crown headed by a reformed Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard a ruthless pirate who looks and sounds a lot like Ian McShane. Their paths cross on numerous occasions as the story scrambles across the map culminating in a splashy battle in a magical meadow where Ponce de Leon’s greatest discovery lies.
Less a cohesive story and more a collection of individual set pieces linked together by nonsensical dialogue and supernatural occurrences the film isn’t all that hard to follow if you don’t strain yourself doing so. The sequence of events collide so conveniently for the characters you can’t help but call the screenplay anything but the result of complacency while the film itself sails so swiftly from point to point it’s actually a waste of time to dwell on plot holes and motives. Disrupting its momentum (which is one of the few things the film has going for it) is an unwatchable romance between Sam Claflin’s missionary Philip and Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) one of a handful of murderous mermaids who do battle with Blackbeard’s crew. Their bland courtship will have you begging for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to return to the high seas and that’s saying something.
The all-female fish people are one of a few additions to the Pirates world but their effect on the film is negligible outside of being the impetus for the coolest action sequence in the picture and perhaps the most unnerving of the series. The others include Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard’s busty daughter Angelica and Stephen Graham as shipmate Scrum. The former feels out of place among the cartoony happenings but provides much needed sass while the latter fills in for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for much of the film and is a pleasure to watch for some hammy comedic moments.
As always however this is Depp’s show and he continues to put a smile on my face with his charisma and theatrical presence. Even though he’s operating on autopilot throughout you can’t help but marvel at his energy and enthusiastic output as he literally fuels the fun in the film. The same can be said of Rush who’s given a meatier and more significant arc this time around. He trades quips with Depp as if they were a golden-age comedy duo and they remain the most appealing attraction in the franchise. Though he brings an undeniable sense of danger to the picture I was sadly underwhelmed by McShane’s Blackbeard a character with such a domineering reputation and imposing look he should’ve been stealing scenes left and right. Instead I felt he phoned his performance in though that could’ve been the result of Marshall’s indirection.
No better than the genre-bending original but a slight improvement over Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End On Stranger Tides suffers centrally from lack of a commanding captain. Marshall’s role is relegated to merely on-set facilitator or perhaps liaison between legions of talented craftspeople that make the movie look so good. Whatever vision he had for this venture if he had a unique take at all is chewed up and spit out by the engines of the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster factory rendering the film as mechanical as the ride from which it is based.
I say "creepy" because Untraceable’s theory could actually be a reality. The possibility of a tech-savvy psycho setting up a Web site that displays graphic murders could happen with the fate of each of the tormented captives left in the hands of the public: The more hits the site gets the faster the victims die--and in the case of Untraceable die in very gruesome ways. Of course Untraceable also gives us a peek at the good guys--the FBI division that is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting cybercriminals. Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is one such Internet expert who along with her co-worker (Colin Hanks) is stymied by KillWithMe.com’s untraceablity. But soon the movie turns predictable as the cat-and-mouse game gets personal and Marsh must race against the clock to stop the madman. Lane has certainly looked better in her past movies. For obvious effect they’ve made Agent Marsh rather worn-down with dark circles under her eyes and very little makeup as she sits in front of the computer hunting the bad guys all night on the late shift. The fact that she’s also a widow having lost her cop husband to the job and caregiver to her young daughter doesn’t help the woman get anymore rest. Then when the crap starts hitting the fan and people close to Marsh get hurt the actress really shows the pain on her already haggard face. Marsh even admits “I do a lot of things well but I don’t lose people well.” It’s a standard tough-FBI-agent role and Lane is very capable at it. Supporting her is Hanks (Orange County) as the resident comic relief (what little of it there is) as well as Billy Burke (Fracture) the local cop trying to help Marsh catch the psycho Internet killer. As for the killer himself the actor who portrays him (and I won’t give it away) is very effective in the role. There are a couple of other things Untraceable has going for it besides the chilling premise: director Gregory Hoblit who knows his way around a crime thriller having directed gems such as Primal Fear and Fracture and the dank Portland Oregon locale. Hoblit creates just the right amount of tension and dread as the clock ticks down and the race nears its end but something about an overcast rainy environ just lends itself to more doom and gloom doesn’t it? Of course there are also the torture scenes which add a certain level of Hostel-like horror. What Untraceable lacks is a compelling narrative. The bevy of writers involved (never the best of signs) tend to throw in too many conventional thriller plot points--like the red herrings on who the killer is before he’s revealed and explaining why the killer is doing what he’s doing. All these things dilute the film’s initial potential. Still let’s just hope this doesn’t spawn real-life copycats.
She may be best known for her skimpy outfits on FOX's Married...With Children, but last weekend, actress Christina Applegate was decked out in a white, Jessica Paster-designed wedding gown as she wed actor Johnathon Schaech in Palm Springs on Saturday.
Not to be outdone by his glowing bride, Schaech (best known for roles in That Thing You Do! and Hush) wore a black suit designed by Hugo Boss, according to Entertainment Tonight reports.
Applegate, 30, and Schaech, 32, had been dating since early 1998.
Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker, to Entertainment Tonight, on her childhood in a welfare-dependant family:
There are many faces. Some people have assumptions about who is dependent upon our state and federal governments for need. I think sometimes people think it's a lot of people of color but this is what welfare looks like [pointing to herself].
Welfare is for all varieties of people. It can be people that are cultured and educated, who just find themselves in need of help. That doesn't mean they're lazy, or uneducated, or have low standards. It's just that they can't manage at the moment, and my family is a good example of that.
We all had a good work ethic, and I have a work ethic that I am proud of, but that's where I came from. I feel that my parents always did the best that they could do, and that is what the situation called for.
Rogan of "Fear Factor"
Many of the networks' new
summer series have already debuted--but are people watching? Some critics
certainly are, and the consensus is: wait until fall.
To date, NBC's reality show Fear Factor has scored the highest ratings among new series, according to Nielsen Media Research. The week of its premiere--June 11 through June 17--the show scored an admirable 13 share on June 11, achieving the No. 12 ranking in the Nielsen top 25.
Where is NBC's Kristin in the top 25 throughout June? Nowhere to be found. How about Fox's resurrected Freakylinks? Or ABC's drama The Beast? Ditto.
Hal Boedeker, television writer for the Orlando Sentinel in Florida,
says that it all boils down to quality.
"It has been a boring summer so far, with the networks burning off the series
they realized were duds," he said. "If this is the way programmers think they're
going to keep viewers tuning in, they should snap out of it. Kristin and
The Beast are disasters of unusual ineptitude.
"I guess Fear Factor is a success in the ratings, but it's
not a success anyone should be happy about. The program shouts, 'We're creatively
bankrupt.' The same thing goes for the horrible Spy TV. You're watching
the end of Must-See TV on NBC."
Elsewhere, on the pay-cable networks, series both new and old have been making
their mark, most notably HBO's Sex and the City, which claimed the top
spot in the cable ratings last week. Sex... outperformed HBO's premiere
of Chicken Run
and The Replacements,
which finished at No. 3 and No. 4 for the week, respectively.
The Sarah Jessica Parker
series scored a 3.4 rating, with the new HBO series Six Feet Under in tow
in the No. 2 spot for the week with a 2.8 rating. In an effort to boost Six
Feet Under's future Nielsen showings, HBO recently decided to move the series
from 10 p.m. EST Sundays to 9:30 p.m. EST on the same night, riding on Sex...'s
As for the Nielsen ratings for basic-cable networks, TNT's new series Witchblade--airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST--made an impressive showing last week, grabbing the No. 7 spot. TNT executives expect its fan base to quickly broaden.
"It would be early to judge [Witchblade], but the returns thus far are very favorable," TNT Publicity spokesman Walter Ward said. "It is averaging a 2.4 rating for its time slot.
"Most important, Witchblade ratings and delivery increase each quarter hour for both weeks. In key demos--viewers 18-49 and 25-54--the series is pacing well ahead of TNT year to date in prime time."
New summer series, of course, are still on the way. They include CBS' Big Brother 2, NBC's other reality program, Spy TV, and Showtime's quirky time-twisting drama Leap Years.