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.
It's starting a week early to accommodate the upcoming 2002 Winter Olympics. Security is beefed up like never before. But on Thursday night, the show will go on at the Sundance Film Festival.
Held in Park City, Utah, Sundance will begin with a screening of the film The Laramie Project, which tells the story of the murder of college student Matthew Shepard and stars Steve Buscemi and Laura Linney. The festival will show 172 films before it ends on Jan. 20.
But it's not the same Sundance.
This year, Sundance attendees will endure something that they've never had to deal with before: strict, tightened security. Concerns about possible terrorist attacks at both the festival and the Olympics (several Olympic events will be held in and around Park City) have forced major changes, including a ban on sealed envelopes at the festival's headquarters, fewer invites to celebrity parties and an overall decrease in attendance.
According to CNN, festival workers and volunteers have also received specialized training in case a threat is posed.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. This Sunday, applause will be heard in Park City as Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro (Traffic) receives the Piper-Heidsieck award for his contributions to independent filmmaking.
Actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne (1996 Oscar nominee for The Madness of King George) died of a heart attack last Wednesday at his home in London. Hawthorne, 72, had been battling pancreatic cancer for two years.
Liz Hurley and Matthew Perry will not be making the film Servicing Sara--the two actors have been deemed "too fat" by producers, according to the UK's Sky.com.
On Christmas Day, the daughter of Clint Eastwood was forced to jump from the roof of her home in British Columbia due to a house fire. She suffered only minor burns on her hands.
When you watch Robert Altman's new film Gosford Park, try to imagine Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead, not Ryan Phillippe, who landed the role. Altman originally argued for Downey to star, and also lobbied for an R rating, citing the need for more coarse language, according to PageSix.com.
Pamela Anderson's latest boy toy--rapper Kid Rock--has vowed to stop wearing his famed fur coats due to Anderson's pro-animal-rights stance, according to USA Today.
MAD magazine's number-one "Dumb Person of the Year" is Rev. Jerry Falwell, who drew the media's ire for stating that the Sept. 11 tragedy was caused in part by "abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians."
According to Reuters, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney is reinforcing his plea to ban fox hunting with dogs in his home country of England. The practice is a leading cause of foot-and-mouth disease.
You won't be seeing ABC's Funkhausers this spring. Instead, the sitcom--formerly a directorial project for Danny DeVito, who has since dropped out--will air in the fall of 2002. The delay stems from the need for additional creative input, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Actor Kevin Costner is now proud to call himself a successful restaurateur, as late last week he celebrated the six-month anniversary of the opening of his Santa Barbara eatery Epiphany.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, both celebs and parents agree that the TV ratings system--ranging from TV-G to TV-MA--do not affect what audiences watch. Dick Wolf, producer of NBC's Law & Order, told Variety, "Nobody cares. Take a poll, and see if anyone even knows how to activate their V-chip."
Actor Charlton Heston's loyalties are with the U.S. military and its campaign to rid the world of terrorism. According to the BBC, Heston told U.S. troops, "Stay with it. Keep the course. We will win."
If you think you saw the last of the Cruise/Kidman train wreck, think again.
Cruise will be in Sydney, Australia on Wednesday to promote his new film, Vanilla Sky, alongside co-star and girlfriend Penelope Cruz. Problem is: Nicole Kidman will also be in Sydney--her hometown--on that day, attempting to enjoy the holidays with her family.
Regardless, Cruise is not concerned about bumping into his ex.
"I'm looking forward to it," he told Reuters. "It's a place where my children live. My children are half Australian.'' Cruise and Kidman have two adopted children: Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6. They have agreed to jointly raise the kids.
According to Variety, Universal Pictures is planning to produce a biopic about the life of Joseph Greenstein, the 5' 4" Polish wrestler who came to fame as a circus sideshow freak in the 1900s. A producer of the film, Ed Saxon, is calling the story a combination of Forrest Gump and MTV's stunt show Jackass.
The Fast and the Furious star Rick Yune is being cast as the next villain in the James Bond series of films, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Yune will play a man who becomes disfigured after using a new facial-mutation device. John Cleese is slated to reprise his role as R, as Judi Dench is in the role as M.
According to CNN, Bulgaria's The Naked Truth--a news program launched last week featuring female anchors who strip down to their panties while reading the day's headlines--has already received higher ratings than any other news program in the country.
For the first time in over three months, Paula Poundstone--who pleaded no contest to charges of felony child endangerment on Sept. 12--performed a comedy routine Friday at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, Calif. "This is my first night performing since I've been a criminal," joked the self-deprecating comedienne.
Almost three years since they separated, Garth Brooks and wife Sandy have finalized their divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
LeAnn Rimes' official web site has revealed that the 19 year old is now engaged to dancer Dean Sheremet. Rimes' spokespeople were not available for comment on Monday, says The Associated Press.
On Monday, ex-heavyweight fighter Mitchell Rose filed a complaint with police in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York, claiming that Mike Tyson began an unprovoked brawl with Rose on Sunday morning outside of a local eatery. Tyson's spokespeople deny the allegations. No charges have been pressed against either party, PageSix.com reports.
R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who was charged with assault while drunk aboard an airplane in April 2001, is to be tried for his actions in a London court in March, 2002, according to People magazine.
Starsky and Hutch star David Soul won his libel suit against theater critic Matthew Wright of London's The Mirror newspaper. According to People, Soul was awarded $29,000 in the suit, which he brought against Wright for making derogatory comments about Soul's performance in a 1998 play--a play that Wright did not even attend.
Actor James Cromwell (L.A. Confidential) is now banned from Wendy's restaurants in Farifax County, Va. for one year. The ban stems from Cromwell's no contest plea in a Va. court on Monday in which he was charged with trespassing while attending an animal-rights protest at a Fairfax County Wendy's in July.
The artist and writer who co-created the Casper, the Friendly Ghost franchise, Seymour Reit, died on November 21, The Associated Press revealed on Monday. Reit was 83.
Ticket sales for Broadway shows have picked up dramatically over the last week.
Last week saw a 20 percent increase in sales, a sign that theater fans and tourists are ready to once again enjoy the performing arts--hesitantly.
"[The attacks were] a galvanizing event that brought this community together in terms of trying to save shows and jobs and continue to entertain and to get [people's] minds off, at least briefly, this horrible tragedy," he said.
It's officially over for Jane Fonda and Ted Turner. Fonda filed for divorce from the CNN tycoon earlier this week in Atlanta's Fulton County Superior Court, ending 15 months of separation, The Associated Press reported. According to Fonda, 63, and Turner, 62, their marriage crumbled when Fonda became a Christian. "We went in different directions. I grew up," she told AP.
"Titus" stuntman injured
A stuntman practicing a dangerous car maneuver for the Fox series Titus wound up in a Los Angeles hospital on Tuesday. Brian Carson, 44, was rehearsing the stunt at the Los Angeles County raceway-hitting a speed of 60 mph-when his car slammed into a ramp rigged with explosives. According to Entertainment Tonight, Carson suffered serious head injuries and multiple bone fractures. Carson has performed more than 2,000 stunts for the small screen.
Kathleen Turner: proud pop?
Actress Kathleen Turner will take on a role she's never tackled before in a May 17 episode of Friends: a transvestite man. People reports that Turner, 45, will play Matthew Perry's father in the hour-long episode, in which the characters played by Perry and Courteney Cox Arquette discover daddy's little secret after years of no contact. Morgan Fairchild will star as Perry's mother.
Goldie Hawn in the director's chair
First-time screenwriter Goldie Hawn, who has completed her script Ashes to Ashes, also will earn the title first-time director. According to Entertainment Weekly, Hawn's film will follow the travels of a bitter woman who reluctantly takes her ex-husband's ashes to Nepal. Jeremy Pisker (Bulworth) co-wrote the screenplay with Hawn.
Eminem: moving away
Following the path of such fellow musicians as Madonna, rapper Eminem has told British papers that he's intent on moving out of the United States to roost across the pond in England. According to Britain's Sun tabloid on Thursday, Eminem is looking for a suitable apartment in London for the time being, then will branch out and go house hunting in the more exclusive neighborhoods nearby. Says the Grammy winner: "I love Britain."
All Saints/Prodigy wedding
A spokeswoman for singer Natalie Appleton of the girl group All Saints has confirmed that she and Prodigy band member Liam Howlett are engaged. Says Appleton of her hard-rocking beau: "I'm very excited. I love him to bits and I've never been happier." The nuptials are to take place sometime next year.
Rosie's return to Nickelodeon
In a bizarre move, Rosie O'Donnell, who had backed out of hosting the 14th annual Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards last week due to a hand injury, has recanted her refusal and will indeed emcee the event. According to Entertainment Tonight, O'Donnell, 39, was given the green light by her doctors to travel to Los Angeles to host the show. A doctor will accompany her throughout her trip.
Michael Jackson gets dumped
King of Pop Michael Jackson has to search for a new entertainment management company to handle his affairs, according to People. His representation, The Firm, which also handles as the Backstreet Boys, dumped Jacko after just a year of managing his career. The Firm refused to comment, but Jackson was nice enough to thank them anyway for the effort it put forth on his behalf. He has recently been working on a new album that should be released sometime this fall.
Will Will Truman get lucky? Will Chandler and Monica tie the knot? Will Dawson and Pacey make up? And what's up with "Popular"?!
Those are some of the questions that have been posed and that will be answered during the fall season of television.
Herein is a critique of the fall seasons of 10 TV series that Hollywood.com staffers watch on a weekly basis:
"Will & Grace," NBC, Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET
Is "Will & Grace," the as-of-late-sometimes-hilarious sitcom about a gay man named Will Truman (Eric McCormack, who looks tan and really sexy this season), his best gay friend Jack McFarland (the always funny, over the top Emmy winner Sean Hayes), his best female friend Grace Adler (Debra Messing), and her lush of a socialite "employee" Karen Walker (Emmy winner Megan Mullally), falling from, er, grace this season? "Will & Grace" sadly has been spotty since its Emmy win for Best Comedy. McCormack has said that Will will date this season and have a number of boyfriends. The guest spot a few weeks back by Patrick Dempsey as one of those alleged future boyfriends was funny, and the exchange among Dempsey, McCormack and Hayes in Banana Republic (dancer-actor-singer-choreographer Jack is now a Banana Republic sales associate, headphones and all) was witty and pretty and ... well, you know. But last week's much-hyped guest spot by Cher was totally disappointing. The writing was weak for most of the episode, guest star Camryn Manheim was wasted and Cher appeared in only the last few minutes. What we needed was a half hour of "Jack & Cher." Here's hoping that Will hooks up with Mr. Banana Republic. Life is about the Banana, after all. Go, girlfriend. Grade: B-
"Friends," NBC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET
Some shows grind to a halt after two characters get together, but the pairing of Monica (Courteney Cox Arquette) and Chandler (Matthew Perry), who are set to wed this season, has created more hijinks than ever. They have created the funniest storylines of the season: Monica consults an elaborate wedding binder she's been keeping since 4th grade, only to find out that her parents spent her wedding fund on a beach house. Chandler keeps having embarrassing moments with his future father-in-law (Elliott Gould) and finds that he can't smile in photographs. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) compete for maid of honor (Phoebe wins, but lets Rachel do it because it means more to her). Meanwhile, the non-wedding-related storylines have fallen to the wayside: Rachel has hired a cute younger assistant she can't date; Joey's pilot gets canceled, and Phoebe just found out that her grandmother's secret cookie recipe is from Nestle Tollhouse. Ross (David Schwimmer), other than a memory-lane kiss with Rachel, is so far unlucky in love. But, in the funniest episode of the season, he finds an unlikely snuggling partner in Joey when the two accidentally nap together -- and like it. Grade: B+
"The West Wing," NBC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET
This Emmy winner started its second season with a bang -- quite literally. After the cliffhanger from the end of the first season, wherein President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) were shot, the two-hour opener took viewers from the present to the past. The episode cleverly gave the audience the background of why Bartlet first got on the campaign trail and showed how his extraordinary staff was assembled, all while juxtaposed with the assassination crisis. And the show doesn't seem to be stopping, creating scenarios that mirror the current social and political climate -- including some controversial racial conflict. The cast is still outstanding -- including Emmy winners Allison Janney as Press Secretary C.J. Cregg and Richard Schiff as Communications Director Toby Ziegler. Guest spots by the likes of Timothy Busfield and John Laroquette added heart and intensity to the behind-the-scenes storylines. But the heart of the show remains Sheen as the wise and truthful President Bartlet, and given the current real-life situation in the political world, Bartlet would be considered a godsend. Grade: A
"Everybody Loves Raymond," CBS, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET
Though "Everybody Loves Raymond" does not tend to build upon storylines episode to episode, it has shown some resourcefulness this season. Bringing in guest stars such as Robert Culp as Debra Barone's (Emmy winner Patricia Heaton) dad was a nice touch, especially when it led to a hilarious dispute between in-laws. But the show has been quite hit-or-miss lately. Ray (Ray Romano) developing a fear of germs, for example -- interesting but not funny, especially for a character who already has three young children. Just a breakdown of logic there. Ray's brother Robert, the divorced cop (played with deadpan precision by Brad Garrett), has also been curiously underused thus far. Grade: B-
"ER," NBC, Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET
The best thing America's top drama -- for the past six seasons -- has done so far is not add any new characters. Drs. Greene and Corday (Anthony Edwards and Alex Kingston) have gotten engaged; Dr. Kovac (the very hunky Goran Visjnic) is feeling guilt over a guy he accidentally killed during a mugging; and Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) is back from rehab and peeing in a cup whenever he's asked. Dr. Chen (Ming-Na) is pregnant by a doctor at another hospital; Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle) lost his surgical attending position and is now "demoted" to an ER post; and there are hints that Dr. Weaver (Laura Innes) is mulling a lesbian relationship. Oh yes, and they treat people, too. The strongest episodes are still the medical-oriented cases, especially the 22-week-old "miracle baby" who survived nearly an entire day. Medical student/nurse Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) is emerging as the emotional core, letting us miss Sherry Stringfield and Julianna Margulies a little less. What's left to do is to use more of Michael Michele, who plays pediatric resident Dr. Cleo Finch. "ER" is not consistently great, but it still keeps our pulses pounding. Grade: B
"Dawson's Creek," WB, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET
Last year ended with Joey (Katie Holmes) sailing into the sunset with Pacey (Joshua Jackson), leaving her best friend/soul mate Dawson (James Van Der Beek) weeping and alone. It's a good choice because Holmes and Jackson have decidedly better chemistry, and although they dispense the same amount of SAT-filled sentences (meanwhile Pacey is flunking school) as Joey and Dawson, this new couple have snappier arguments/flirtations. This season: Joey's repairing her friendship with Dawson, who's trying to move on by taking pictures and finding a new confidante in Pacey's older sister (Sasha Alexander), particularly after his parents discover that they're having another baby. Pacey and Dawson take (very small) steps toward reconciliation after the former's boat is swept into a storm and the latter risks his neck to save him. Jen (Michelle Williams) is temporarily ostracized from the group -- and from best friend Jack (Kerr Smith) -- when she lets the already medicated Andie (Meredith Monroe) try Ecstasy at a rave, causing her to collapse and nearly die. But it's Andie who gives the fractured group a chance to heal again when she announces that she's leaving Capeside to spend the rest of the year in Italy (she already got into Harvard early, dontcha know). In her tearjerking farewell, she implores her friends to make up, and it looks as if they will. Grade: B+
"Frasier," NBC, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET
In the early '90s -- in its third season -- "Seinfeld" began to structure its episodes around the supporting characters, not the title character. Suddenly, the same seems true about "Frasier." While the love affair between Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) seemed to be the hook to get viewers back into the show early this fall, it remained the hook throughout most of the season. And it worked. Their relationship has spawned a number of morose storylines thus far, with ex-wives and ex-fiancees plotting against the likable couple, but Frasier himself seems to have been pushed aside, stuck with adequate conflicts such as his displeasure with his wealthy new boss. But it still works. And Niles pretending to still be married in social circles is surprisingly hilarious each time. Grade: B+
"Spin City," ABC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET
No, you can't blame Charlie Sheen alone for "Spin City's" decline in popularity. It really comes down to the writing. Only one episode of "Spin City" this fall has been impressive -- the one where Sheen and Heather Locklear lock horns on the set of "Live With Regis" -- but little else has proven to be much of a surprise. Sure, Sheen's character, the deputy mayor of New York, is narcissistic, and yes, he has a tainted history with drugs, but didn't we already expect that? It's not Sheen's fault that this sort of cliched writing took place. It's not Locklear's fault that she has little chemistry with him. And it's not the viewers' fault for wanting to change the channel - even though it means the certain demise of one of their previously most beloved shows. We miss ya, Mike. Grade: C-
"Popular," WB, Fridays, 9 p.m. ET
The WB's "Popular" is one of the most underrated and funniest shows on television. It's sad that it's been relegated to a Friday night spot. The show boasts a fabulous ensemble cast of pretty people vs. Everyday people, although the two sides have been mingling more and more. School stud turned social pariah Josh Ford (Bryce Johnson) has hooked up with tree-hugger Lily Esposito (Tamara Mello) after the pair rescued a gay chimpanzee from the L.A. Zoo. It's a lame pairing, but player-player Josh has already hooked up with the rest of the ladies on the show, so I guess Lil' Lily was next. Alarming this season: Instead of funny gags such as kidnapping Gwyneth Paltrow's personal shopper and competing ruthlessly for Homecoming Queen, "Popular" has turned to Very Special Episodes. Harrison John (Christopher Gorham) is battling leukemia, Nicole Julian (Tammy Lynn Michaels) has cried ... twice(!) ... over her fall from popularity, Carmen Ferrera's (Sara Rue) mother is an alcoholic, and both reigning Homecoming Queen Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) and Mike "Sugar Daddy" Bernadino are battling eating disorders. Not very funny stuff. This season has been more about tears over sadness and struggles rather than laughter. As Mary Cherry (the always hilarious Leslie Grossman) would say, let's get some laughs back, hon. And pronto! Grade: B-
"Ally McBeal," Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET
After a disappointing third season, David E. Kelley's series was in need of some serious spice. Kelley tried everything to raise ratings, from a lesbian lip-lock to some full-blown musical mishmash, but nothing could save the sinking show. In a final act of desperation, Kelley brought in a fresh-from-the-cell Robert Downey Jr. Little did Kelley know that the criminal element would bring such critical success this fall. As a cute, clever attorney named Larry, Downey's straight but sarcastic delivery is the perfect foil for Ally's (Calista Flockhart) high-strung hysteria. He steals every scene with his flawless timing, then punctuates even the simplest sentence with that trademark sexy smirk. Downey may have been sent in to rekindle the spark, but his presence has set the show on fire and made "Ally McBeal" a must-see on Monday nights again. Grade: B+
Reviews by Jason Alcorn, Kit Bowen, Tracey Pollack, Ellen A. Kim and Don Chareunsy.