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.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
An all-star lineup of top recording artists made an early morning trek to the Beverly Hilton Hotel's Grand Ballroom to help announce this year's crop of nominees for the 44th Annual Grammy Awards, a trek most found worthwhile.
The most bleary-eyed of all was Motown's soul songstress India.Arie, who was suddenly wide-awake after hearing her named nominee in some of the top categories. All in all, Arie snared seven nominations for her debut album Acoustic Soul, including the prestigious Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist categories, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album.
Equally excited was the pint-sized, ponytailed pop phenom in pink standing next to Arie, singer/songwriter Nelly Furtado, who squealed excitedly after she earned four Grammy nominations (Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Female Vocal Performance).
Joining the two songbirds onstage for the announcements were an eclectic assortment of recording industry standouts who also earned their own nominations: girl group Destiny's Child (Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal), Train lead singer Pat Monahan (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal), rapper Ja Rule (Best Rap Album, Best Rap performance by a Duo or Group, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration), rock goddess Stevie Nicks (Best Female Rock Vocal Performance), country chanteuse Jamie O'Neil (Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song), fabled R&B producer Jimmy Jam (Producer of the Year), actor/writer/director Carl Reiner (Best Spoken Word Album) and R&B sensation Usher (Best Male R&B Performance).
"That's good news, isn't it?" asked Usher, grinning ear-to-ear as he took the podium.
Though not present, U2 and Alicia Keys dominated the nominations as powerfully as they dominated the sales charts over the last year.
The Irish supergroup's acclaimed album All That You Can't Leave Behind provided fodder for eight nominations in several coveted categories, including Record of the Year ("Walk On"), Album of the Year, Song of the Year ("Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"), Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal ("Stuck In a Moment..."), Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal ("Elevation") and Best Rock Album. The group also faces stiff competition from itself, as two of its songs, "Elevation" and "Walk On" will be vying for the Best Rock Song honor. Since 1987 U2 has walked off with 10 Grammys out of 20 nominations.
Meanwhile, singer/songwriter Keys--easily the most heralded new talent of the past year--was singled out in six categories for music from her debut album Songs In A-Minor and her smash hit "Fallin'," including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Performance, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Album.
The late singer/actress Aaliyah may be gone but was not forgotten, garnering two posthumous nominations, for Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Several Hollywood stars and projects earned intriguing nods. Comedian Steve Martin was nominated for his banjo work on the jam "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" from Earl Scruggs and Friends. His fellow comics Ray Romano, Margaret Cho and George Carlin received nods in the more logical Best Spoken Comedy Album slot. And it's good to be the king: Mel Brooks was tapped for Best Long Form Music Video with "Recording the Producers: A Musical Romp With Mel Brooks."
Ann-Margret was honored for Best Southern Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album, while Vanessa Redgrave and Tim Curry were each nominated for dramatic performances on albums in the Best Spoken Word Album for Children category. Rob Lowe, Noah Wyle, Joan Allen and Tom Brokaw were singled out in the Best Spoken Word Album for their voice work on War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars.
Nominees for Best Score Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media include A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Men of Honor, Planet of the Apes and Traffic.
Competing for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media are Bridget Jones's Diary, Moulin Rouge, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Shrek and The Sopranos: Peppers & Eggs.
The 44th Annual Grammy Awards will be held Feb. 27 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast at 8 p.m. PT/ET on CBS.