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 a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
A long, long time ago, I’m sure you can still remember, when we saw this photo of Katie Couric. It was a surprise to all of us because we were used to thinking she spent her weekends pitching CGI chipmunk movies to studio executives instead of dancing at bar mitzvah parties. But it turns out, that wild side of hers was cultivated and only grew into what it is today because she attended college and hates constructing constructing Ikea furniture.
Ali Larter told Jimmy Fallon the sex of her baby, and even though it wasn’t as funny as when Jennifer Garner did it on Leno, it was still cute.
David Letterman played around with animal expert Jack Hanna, who I think pretended to be a bear so Letterman could shoot him with some Raid. I don’t know, it’s confusing – we aren’t given an introductory paragraph to go with this.
Wyatt Cenac pointed out the only borough that hasn’t produced a Supreme Court judge is Staten Island, so he got all his shots and ventured out there to take a look at some possible candidates.
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Jon Stewart talked to Meghan McCain, who’s smart enough to hire a ghostwriter to write her book but still believes in the Republican Party? Also, doesn’t she ever get tired of people asking her about her dad’s POW flashbacks instead of asking her what dimmer setting she used to take this picture?
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Robert Pattinson Deals with Fame: Late Last Night
As much as you want it to, “Twilight” isn’t going away anytime soon. I give you permission to try to keep willing it to go away, or get sucked back to the room where movie execs brainstorm movie plots…but I gotta tell ya, the movie series about vampires, werewolves and really white people just isn’t going back to that place. In fact, Robert Pattinson told Jay Leno how he and his parents have gotten used to the hype that surrounds his little existence. But continuing to deal the tabloids that write how he has an alien child or has impregnated Kristen Stewart isn’t really easy.
And CONTROVERSY! Emma Roberts told Pattinson how she’s firmly on Team Jacob, and then she talked a little bit about ‘Scream 4.’ But I feel like if Team Jacob and Team Edward continue to dominate the world (even when the World Cup is going on) we might as well just give in and promote them to ambassadors and send them to the UN.
Jimmy Fallon explained the pros and cons of watching the World Cup. Now I’ll let you in on a little secret: if you enjoy watching the games, but hate the commentary and would rather listen to something more fulfilling, mute the game and turn on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s probably the most brilliant idea I’ll ever have in my lifetime, because when the instant replays come on and you can see the intensity on the player’s faces, it’s just SUPREME GREATNESS.
And then, Jimmy talked to Cedric the Entertainer about his plans to visit to the White House for the Fourth of July extravaganza. The last time he was there, Cedric said he was taken on a tour of the White House, but instead of taking an interest in Lincoln’s bedroom, Cedric wanted to know what’s in Obama’s sock drawer…which is entirely legitimate. (Is it socks? Cheese? Condoms? Where could a President safely hide condoms in the White House, if not in his sock drawer?)
Katie Couric (where’s she been?) talked to David Letterman about the oil spill. Then they got to talking about electric cars, and the interview went to south that little perky and spunky Katie even mock-slit her wrists. I know you want to see that…because you should be lying dead in a field on a farm for retired horses if you don’t.
Jon Stewart reiterated the promises Obama made to America when he was running for President, and questioned where his promises for strong action and the return of a lawful country had ran off to. Oh, right! They’re becoming more like Bush’s policies every day! IRON HARD IRONY, EVERYONE!
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Then he talked about the resources that can be found in Afghanistan’s soil. We’re talking iron, copper, cobalt and gold that’s worth more than a trillion dollars, that when pooled together, could probably buy you an elephant you could keep in your apartment and could live off of cereal. But it turns out, we’ve known this since 2007. So why in the name of cheese doodles are we hearing about Afghanistan’s riches now? Easy! Because now, the race is on to get control of Afghanistan, and who do you think is more likely to succeed at that than the country that’s already occupied it for more than 104 months!?
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And last but not least, Stephen Colbert put a pair of his boxers and put it in a microwave. I’m not going to ruin this clip for you by adding any more text than that.
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