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.
Those well-versed in the films of Oliver Stone or perhaps a certain quirky hospital series that helped launched the age of the single-camera comedy might have noticed a familiar face popping up throughout this season of Burn Notice: that of John C. McGinley, the decorated film and television actor famous for playing Dr. Perry Cox on the NBC sitcom Scrubs. Throughout Burn Notice’s sixth season, McGinley has recurred as Tom Card, the nebulous former mentor to the show’s hero, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan). Thursday night will mark the broadcast of the USA series’ mid-season finale (McGinley will appear on more in the fall!) — and perhaps reveal a little more about his character's true intentions?
We got a chance to talk to the actor about his stint on Burn Notice, as well as a few other exciting projects he has on the horizon (including a Broadway appearance), his lasting appreciation for the gift that was Dr. Cox, and some of his own cinematic passions.
“I’d been a fan of Jeffrey [Donovan] for a long time,” McGinley explained, discussing his decision to take on a role on Burn Notice. “I’d seen the show off and on. And Gabrielle [Anwar] is a goddess. So, I just thought it was a bunch of good actors. And Matt Nix, he can write his tail off. I thought that was a good formula — and so it yielded huge dividends.”
As we quickly learned about McGinley, the quality of writing is his top priority when choosing a project. “I read it, and I thought it was really delicious. So I said, ‘Yeah. I’ll come down to Miami.’ Why not? … There’s that silly rule of thumb that you hear every actor talk about in every stinkin’ interview: if it’s not on the page, it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s the single truest thing in the history of the planet. If those words stink, then the [project] is going to stink.”
McGinley could tell from reading Tom Card that he was a character worth sinking his teeth into. “You don’t know if he’s coming or going as far as how he supports or subverts the protagonist for four of the five episodes. That’s fantastic. He’s not wearing a particular color in the story. You don’t know if he’s the man in black or the man in white, the bad guy or the good guy. So, to be able to straddle that tight of a tightrope is the stuff that actors dream of.”
There are several big screen projects that McGinley has in the works — each of which commanded his interest thanks to the quality of its script. First on the list is 42, the developing Jackie Robinson biopic written and directed by Brian Helgeland. “The script is very smart. It’s one year. It’s 1947. It’s the year baseball was integrated. It’s not Jackie Robinson from cradle to the grave. That’s too hard. You’ve got to do that with a book … This is one year in a man’s life that, in a lot of ways, changed our country.”
McGinley enthusiastically celebrates his chance to play radio sportscaster Red Barber in the film.
“He’s one of the top-of-the-food-chain, iconic radio voices of all time,” McGinley divulged. “I don’t say that in any way disparaging Vince Gully, because Vince Gully was an intern of his for five years. So, this is a guy who, along with Mel Allen, invented baseball on the radio. They co-invented it. They were the pioneers. And I got to do that. It was massive.”
However, this story reaches far beyond the confines of professional baseball. McGinley appreciates just how grand a story this film has in store — “As much of a sports story it is,” the actor said, “this is a civil rights story.” He continued: “This is a story about empowerment and courage. Branch Rickey, who Harrison Ford plays in this, was the guy who ran the Dodgers. What he did was breathtaking. In 1947, to bring a black guy into the big leagues? As you’ll see in the story, it was an uphill climb the whole way.”
Another highly anticipated film in McGinley’s future is the newest Alex Cross adaptation, featuring Tyler Perry and Ed Burns. While both of the leading men’s characters come straight from the texts of James Patterson, McGinley got the opportunity to create the character himself with the film’s writer and director Rob Cohen. “I played Ed Burns’ and Tyler Perry’s boss in the police force … It’s not in the book. So, [Cohen] invited me to come and create this guy. We got together and decided where this guy could fit into the story. That’s as exciting as anything any actor could ever do. When you get to create a character out of nothing? He doesn’t exist in the book. He doesn’t exist in the script. Rob knew he needed an instrument in there somewhere to push this information forward, or deliver this element of the story. He goes, ‘Do you want to be this guy?’ And I said, ‘Of course!’"
As far as his cast mates go, McGinley feels as though he hit the jackpot. “I’ve always thought Ed Burns was a profoundly underrated actor. He’s a great director, obviously. A great director/writer. But I think he’s a stunning actor, too … I was pretty pumped to see Ed. It’s so great when your perception of someone is eclipsed by how great they are in real life. That’s the effect Ed had on me. I thought he was a stunning person, and an equally extraordinary actor.” Although McGinley didn’t have as much of a chance to spend time with Perry off camera, he assured that he will be “marvelous” as Alex Cross.
Among this slew of dramatic new prospects, McGinley is also staying true to his gift of humor for the upcoming comedy film Get a Job. McGinley explained the theme of the picture: “It’s [about] the Gen-Xers who have lived at home with their parents. The angle the script takes is that these are the kids who all got trophies in soccer. And even if you were thrown out at first when you were playing little league baseball, you still got to stay on first. You were never out. You weren’t ever on a losing team.”
And how exactly do kids like this turn out as adults? “So, this kind of mollycoddling that generation was afforded or afflicted with by their parents has yielded kids — young people at twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty — who… who what? That’s what the picture is. Okay, what are you doing now? There are losers in soccer games. You are out at first.”
Once again, it all comes back to the writing: “The script was fantastic. I play one of their bosses. One of the guys gets a job on a trading floor. And talk about a shark pool. To come from that background to a stocks and bonds trading floor, where everybody would take a shiv and stick it in your esophagus just as soon as look at you. So, this one character, that’s his workplace conflict.”
A colorful stock trader, a shifty mentor (and possible villain), a sportscasting legend, and the head honcho on a homicide investigation — not to mention Dave Moss in the upcoming Broadway production of Glengarry Glen Ross, in which McGinley will star opposite Al Pacino (a role that McGinley called “a profound challenge”). Clearly, the actor has a lot of great characters on the way. But for many of us, he’ll always be associated with Percival Cox, M.D. And McGinley seems to have no problem with that.
“To get to play that guy for nine years,” McGinley explained, “is a gift … [I] did six films this year, and now I’m going to do a Broadway play. So, if I’ve been stigmatized as Dr. Cox, then give me more stigma.”
And it’s because of how tumultuously troubled Cox always was as a human being. “He was profoundly flawed, from being unquestionably an alcoholic, to being a divorced guy who moves in, moves out, moves back in with his ex-wife — then decides that they’re better divorced but living together — to sometimes using a jackhammer to teach, only because the stakes that they’re dealing with are so important, to being a great father but raging against being a mentor, to a guy who can’t stand human touch. These are all great things. And they’re so specific and meticulous.”
According to McGinley, this kind of human flaw is what makes for great character. “What helps writers, and ultimately, obviously, helps the actors — who should serve the words that the writer puts on the page — is if the character has damages. Because then the writers can cultivate and excavate, like a dentist going into a tooth. You go into those damages and write interesting stories for a prolonged period of time. So, Cox is so damaged that they got to write him for nine years, and he never became an exercise in redundancy.”
But there are aspects of Cox that make him triumphant. For one, his intelligence, as McGinley illustrated. “I surrendered to this early on: Dr. Cox, SAT- and IQ-wise, runs circles around me. That’s a horrible thing to say about yourself. I think the guy is super, super bright. And probably rebels against that, and tries to damage his intellect with booze.”
Even more importantly is the fact that, at the very core, Cox is a truly good person. “The great thing about Cox,” the actor said, “is that you knew he had a heart of gold. At the bottom of the ninth, bases jacked, two strikes, full count — who do you want? You want Cox. Who do you want as your doctor? You want Cox. So, working backwards from there, it gave him license to hammer those kids. The guy was so fundamentally sound, that he could take those liberties.”
McGinley got to talking about one of his most memorable episodes on Scrubs, which took place during an arc in which Cox spiraled into a crushing depression after inadvertently causing the deaths of several patients. “I didn’t talk in that episode until the last scene,” McGinley recalled. “People kept coming to the apartment. It was an exercise in listening, which is always really useful for actors to do. There’s a whole school in the Neighborhood Playhouse — Sandy Meisner and the Neighborhood Playhouse — all their focus is on listening. And the listening exercises that Sandy came up with always, always are the stuff of treasure and genius work for actors.”
One thing that fans of Perry Cox might look back upon fondly is the doctor’s signature nose-flick — a quirk that McGinley himself brought to the character. But where exactly did it come from? “I was lucky enough to become friends with Paul Newman during Fat Man and Little Boy,” McGinley explained. “When John Cusack and I were down in Mexico doing that film about the atomic bomb. So, I kind of was obsessed with Paul Newman. He was the best to me. One of his famous throws to Robert Redford in The Sting — “The coast is clear, everything is okay” — was that nose flick. So, it was kind of an homage to Paul.”
Talking about The Sting got the actor thinking back upon some of his other favorite films. Among them: Casablanca, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Godfather, and The Grey Fox. “A lot of people would argue with The Grey Fox,” McGinley admitted. “But I don’t care, because it rocks me. The storytelling is so clean, and it’s so gorgeous. And Richard Farnsworth, who I never met… he’s a reason to put a motion picture camera on a human face.”
And when you consider the common themes of this string of movies, McGinley’s favorite pick of 2012 might surprise you: The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The actor affirms that it is “the best film of the year,” divulging emphatically: “You have to be willing to suspend your disbelief, a la E.T.. If you can’t do that, then don’t go to the movie. These reviewers that have been uniformly unkind to it, I don’t know what film they were watching. If they think they were watching a true story about a little boy… it’s a love letter. It’s an enchanted love letter. If you watch E.T. and say that there are holes in the story because this alien lands, then don’t go to the movie! It drives me insane. You go see Timothy Green, and tell me if it doesn’t rock your world. I loved it. I loved every frame of it.”
While it might be a bit easier to pinpoint his favorite of other artists’ works, McGinley just can’t decide when it comes to his own line of films — specifically, his list of Oliver Stone movies. McGinley holds the distinction to be the only actor to have worked with director Stone in six features, and he cherishes each one of them. “They’re all pretty special. Going into the Philippines for six months and surrendering your life to [Platoon] was unbelievable. Doing Wall Street was special, because my father and Oliver’s father both worked, independent of each other, on Wall Street. Doing Talk Radio, I created the role in the play and did it for a year and a half, and then Oliver said, ‘Do you want to do the movie?’ Any Given Sunday, I got to meet Al and spend five months with Al.”
And although he was not involved with this year’s Savages, McGinley had nothing but high praise for the film. “I thought it was fantastic. I thought all the actors were great. I thought Benicio [del Toro] and John [Travolta] and Salma [Hayek] were just in top form.”
Three big pictures, one Broadway play, a television guest spot on the way, and a hell of a lot in the realm of film and television to his name already. McGinley is one of those rare actors that seems to crank out golden performances wherever he goes. Does he have a knack for picking terrific material, or is he just good enough to make anything worth watching (a skill he accredits to a limited populace, including the likes of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams)? Whichever you choose to believe, it’s hard to ignore the actor’s vast talent.
Catch McGinley in the season finale of Burn Notice on Thursday night at 9 PM.
'Scrubs' John C. McGinley Joins 'I, Alex Cross'
'Burn Notice' Premiere: The Spy Who Used to Love Me
TV Tidbits: 'Scrubs' Reunion, Hilary Duff's New Deal and Ryan Lochte on '90210'
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Fake shark fins, anyone? The marketing folks at Universal Home Video have been ticking off SoCal beachgoers, plastering lifeguard stands and trash cans with "Jaws" (1975) posters as part of a national ad campaign to plug the flick’s 25th anniversary video and DVD release.
Critics of the ad say that the posters -- with that famous painting of a shark approaching an unsuspecting swimmer -- freak out children and could be misleading to non-English speakers.
Universal has promised to nix the ad campaign if the hullabaloo continues.
Meanwhile, the people at the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, who OK'd the publicity stunt, told the Los Angeles Times that the complaints arose because "everybody isn’t familiar with the movie."
And that’s where we come in.
How many people are really in the know when it comes to the Steven Spielberg-helmed, Oscar-winning blockbuster about a bloodthirsty shark?
Seeking the answer, we swiftly whipped up a list of trivia that we believe any "Jaws" lover could easily answer and headed down to the Santa Monica beach for some casual Q&A with ocean lovers.
And guess what, the County folks were right: Not one person we talked to could answer any of our following questions:
Q: What community does the story of "Jaws" take place in? Real answer: Amity Island. Best answer from the beach: "Well, I know it takes place by the beach." -- Mary Ann, sunbather from North Hollywood. Q: Who wrote the book that the movie was based on? Real answer: Peter Benchley. Best answer: "I don’t know, I don’t really read." -- Eddie, local college student on summer break.
Q: What actor played the police chief? Real answer: Roy Scheider Best answer: "How am I supposed to remember?" -- Debbie, housewife from Arizona.
Q: Which of the main characters gets eaten? Real answer: Quint (played by Robert Shaw). Best answer: "It’s one of the three characters who went out on a boat at the end." -- Lisa, vacationer from the United Kingdom.
Q: What Jaws movie did Mario Van Peebles appear in? Real answer: "Jaws: The Revenge:" (1987). He played Jake. Best answer: "Who?!" -- Jim, retiree living in Santa Monica.
Q: What Jaws movie did Michael Caine appear in? Real answer: "Jaws: The Revenge" (1987). He played Hoagie. Best answer: "Er, the first one?" -- Debbie, housewife from Arizona.
Q: In which Jaws movie is a shark electrically barbecued? Real answer: "Jaws 2" (1978). Best answer: "Hold on, how many ‘Jaws’ were there?" -- again, Debbie, housewife from Arizona.
Q: Which "Jaws" flick features the star of "Diggstown"? Real answer: Lou Gossett Jr., in "Jaws 3D." Best answer: "Of what?!"-- Jim, retiree living in Santa Monica.
Q: Which of these flicks is a Jaws knock-off: a) "Mako: Jaws of Death" b) "Grizzly" c) "Tentacles" d) "Deep Blue Sea" Answer: All of the above. Best answer: "'Deep Blue Sea.' That one has sharks in it. I’ve seen that one." -- Eddie, local college student on summer break.
But that’s not all. To put the whole shark scare to rest, we talked to Capt. Mickey Gallagher of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Operations. Instead of shark movie posters, Gallagher says people should really be more concerned about watching their kids, and jellyfish, when they come to the beach.
But Gallagher couldn’t answer any of our "Jaws" trivia questions, either.