Flight attendants and pilots are doing double takes -- even more than usual -- when they see actress Tamara Tunie settling into her seat, adjusting her tray table or reaching for the overhead compartment.
Thanks to a new musical she's producing, Ms. Tunie has been commuting frequently to Norfolk, Va., and was returning home to New York on a small plane when she caused a slight stir.
"The flight attendant, she was looking at me, like, 'I know you.' By the time we landed and I was getting off the plane, both of the pilots were looking out of the cockpit and she was standing there and I heard one of them say, 'It is her. We saw "Flight" and you were so great and it was so good.' "
To which she responded: "Thanks, I wanted to represent."
No one confirmed or denied whether anything in the movie could ever happen in real life, from the alcoholic pilot to his decision to try to fly the plane upside down to avoid a catastrophic crash. The movie (3-1/2 stars), which earned Denzel Washington his sixth Oscar nomination, arrived on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
Ms. Tunie, a native of Homestead and graduate of Steel Valley High School and Carnegie Mellon University, portrays flight attendant Margaret Thomason. She is in harrowing scenes in which the plane loses its hydraulics, pitch and vertical control and enters an uncontrolled descent.
"They put the cabin and cockpit of a retired airplane in a sound studio and put it on hydraulics and rigged it, so when you saw the plane toss to the right or toss to the left, it was really tossing and we were really being thrown around. It was great. It was exciting," she said in a recent phone call.
No one was harmed in the making of the movie, thanks to stunt coordinators along with hidden padding that cushioned any actors thrown to the floor.
"When they flipped the cabin upside down, we were strapped into that seat. We were harnessed into the seats, where you couldn't even see the harnesses. So everybody was safe," Ms. Tunie said, although even she was terrified to see the results on screen.
"Flight" is the rare movie that brings God into the entertainment equation, thanks to screenwriter John Gatins.
"I love the questions that he posed about God or religion or spiritual belief or whatever it is that one might believe in. Or whatever one might need to pull oneself out of the darkness. ... I thought his use of it was in no way preachy and in no way taking any particular stance but in a way that was thought-provoking and conversation-stirring."
Ms. Tunie, a recurring character on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," appeared with Mr. Washington in a 2005 Broadway revival of "Julius Caesar" and, just a few weeks ago, popped up in a guest role on "The Good Wife." In her early career, she played lawyer Jessica Griffin on the soap opera "As the World Turns."
Now making her home in Harlem, she is also a Broadway producer ("Spring Awakening," August Wilson's "Radio Golf" and "Magic/Bird") who has been in Norfolk producing a new musical, "Frog Kiss."
"We've done the world premiere here to great success and great reviews. I'm grooming it for Broadway, that's our ultimate goal, to get it to Broadway, and this is the next rung in the ladder."
It's based on a novella, "The Frog Prince: A Fairy Tale for Consenting Adults" by Stephen Mitchell. The musical, about a scientific-minded princess who is determined to turn her frog into a prince in time to save the kingdom, is a fairy tale for grown-ups but also child friendly along the lines of "Shrek" or "Spamalot."
In 1991, Ms. Tunie was the featured speaker at commencement exercises at Steel Valley, where she was an honor student, cheerleader and member of the basketball and track teams, chorus and drama club.
Asked what she might tell grads today, she said probably the same thing.
"At that time, I talked about success and the definition of success, and I don't think my definition of success has changed from that time to now. I define success as finding one's passion, being able to follow one's passion and being happy in all areas of one's life."
She's still following that formula which, when back in Pittsburgh, means family, staying close to CMU, catching the Steelers and, for breakfast, pancakes at Pamela's.
' Here Comes the Boom'
2 1/2 stars = Average
High school music teacher Marty Streb (Henry Winkler) is headed for the unemployment line unless someone comes up with $48,000 by the end of the school year. That threat prompts apathetic biology teacher Scott Voss (Kevin James) to try to raise the money by moonlighting as a mixed martial arts fighter in "Here Comes the Boom." Scott was a teacher of the year a decade ago but now sneaks into class late and rebuffs students, inquisitive or otherwise.
Scott decides the only way to get any serious cash is MMA fighting, despite the fact that his only training was as a college wrestler.
Directed by Frank Coraci ("The Waterboy," "Zookeeper"), "Here Comes the Boom" is not the most elegantly assembled movie, but it's a crowd-pleaser that makes a case for music in schools and for following impossible dreams and not quitting on the kids. Or yourself.
' Alex Cross'
2 stars = Mediocre
Tyler Perry steps in to try to make audiences forget Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross in 1997's "Kiss the Girls" and 2001's "Along Came a Spider."
He plays a Detroit police detective who is being wooed by the FBI thanks to his perceptive powers as a profiler. His wife (Carmen Ejogo) isn't sure she wants to uproot their family and move to Washington, D.C., and Cross and partner Tommy Kane (Ed Burns) have a serial killer to catch before he can make any job changes.
This reboot systematically tortures or kills off most female characters, ignores Alex's young son, forces Mr. Perry to play to his weaknesses as well as strengths, and springs a surprise near the end for which a foundation isn't adequately laid. It also makes much ado about a psychopath portrayed by a skeletal, closely shorn, crazy-eyed Matthew Fox -- but never reveals his origins or what turned him into such a twisted maniac.
Maybe with a more polished script and less need to establish and introduce the principals, a second "Cross" could cross the finish line with more grace, speed and suspense.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "Celeste and Jesse Forever" (2-1/2 stars): High school sweethearts decide to divorce. Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star.
• "Ben 10 Omniverse: A New Beginning": Includes 10 episodes from the series' first season.
• "Above Suspicion, Set 2": Detective tries to prove herself in what is mostly a man's world.
• "Caught on Tape": Sticky Fingaz stars in this tale of a bank robbery investigation.
• "Little White Lies": Friends must face the hard truths of their carefree lives.
• "Gunsmoke: The Seventh Season, Volume 2": James Arness plays the TV marshal.
• "R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour: Volume 3": More creepy tales for young people.
• "Cougar Town: The Complete Third Season": Courteney Cox comedy about friends who love to drink.
• "Southland: The Complete Second, Third & Fourth Seasons": Cop drama set in Los Angeles.
• "Testimony of Two Men": Story of the decades-long saga of Dr. Jonathan Ferrier.
• "Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth With Bill Moyers: 25th Anniversary Edition:" Interview Bill Moyers did with Joseph Campbell 25 years ago.
• "Mafia": Ruthless crime boss (Ving Rhames) faces cop (Pam Grier) bent on revenge.
• "Tyler Perry's Madea Gets a Job": Newest musical stage play from Tyler Perry.
• "Frontline: Poor Kids": A look at how one in five of the nation's children are living below the poverty level.
• "What Will the Future Be Like?": Includes four episodes of NOVA.
• "Cabaret": Bob Fosse's film is being re-released to mark its 40th anniversary.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers