March 9, 2013
4/5 Director: Robert Zemeckis
Denzel Washington soars in “Flight”
Denzel Washington and veteran director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) team up to bring us Flight, a film far superior film than most of the efforts from Hollywood of late. In Flight, two lines of dialogue which essentially illustrates the conflict at the film’s centre. “The way you landed that plan was nothing short of a miracle!” and “Does your client know he’s going to jail?”
But let’s start from the beginning. Flight starts with an incredibly, white-knuckled airplane sequence which is both haunting and terrifying. Washington excels as pilot Whip Whitaker, a likeable, yet troubled alcoholic whose commercial airliner he is piloting experiences mechanical failure during a routine flight from Orlando to Atlanta. He is suave, he is calm, he is cool, but he is also drunk. Yet, miraculously he manages to land the misbegotten plane, saving 96 of the 102 lives on board. (If you’ve seen the trailer you know how memorable this scene is.)
At first hailed a hero, people say things like, “It’s nothing short of miracle.” But when the blood tests return, it is clear that with Whip’s blood alcohol level, he should not even have been driving a car, let alone a plane. That is when we hear the words, “Does your client know he’s going to jail?”
And so we find ourselves, white-knuckling it a second time with Washington in one of his best performances of his career. Whip falls, only to rise, only to fall again. He is on the wagon, off the wagon. Off the wagon. We are placed squarely between his heroism at having saved lives, and our pity at watching him ruin what is left of his. We discover his alcoholism is not new, having lost his marriage to it as well as his relationship with his teenaged son because of it. If indicted he could not only lose his pilot’s license, but face a charge of life in prison. “No one could have landed the plane like I did,” he pleads. But no one listens.
So we look on, like spectators at a crash, as Whip navigates through the debris of his life— his co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) who will never walk again, his union steward (Bruce Greenwood) who tries in vain to contain the situation and Whip, to help him and the people he has hurt both literally and figuratively. You see, everyone who is anyone knows that Whip was drunk that morning, and they all have to live with it. So Whip gets his story straight, with the aid of the union lawyer (Don Chedney), he gets a steady supply of drugs from his friend Harling Mays (John Goodman), he attends the Alcoholics Anonymous with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a woman who, like himself, is trying to get clean. In a particularly heart-wrenching scene, Whip pleads with the flight attendant, Margaret (Tamara Tunie) not to tell the truth about his condition that morning. “It was business as usual that morning,” he coaches her. “I saved the plane.” This becomes his mantra, the thing that allows him to barely sleep at night. But a mantra cannot hide the truth nor undo his trespasses.
In Flight just like in the first few minutes of the film, lives get destroyed, they are thrown together, then torn apart again. We find ourselves wedged between desiring justice, yet wanting exoneration because underneath all of the bravado, Whip is just a man.
What I particularly enjoyed about the film is the proof that we can have a highly entertaining film, with a minimum of sex, violence, and computer generated images. Ultimately the film is not about the flight, but rather about the moral implications of self-deceit, public deceit and broken lives. It’s about self-alienation, self-denial and the nature and consequences of addiction.
True there have been many “recovery” films and herin lies the film’s only cliché, but if you give it that much, you’ll see that Flight does sail admirably under the power of an excellent script and human wings.
Noteworthy “Recovery” films:
The Amazing Spider-Man
2/5 Director: Marc Webb
How can Hollywood go wrong with a Spider-Man remake? Watch. Read. Learn.
In my house when I drop a piece of food onto the floor, I have a 10 second rule. I believe film reboots (remakes) should have at least something similar. Let’s say a minimum of 15 years before a film can be re-produced. Or at least wait for the DVD to come off the shelves. Sigh.
The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by newcomer Marc Webb, really is a script-poor cousin to Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man. The fact of the matter is the original trilogy (2002-2007) is still fresh in our minds, meaning every single time a line of dialogue is uttered in this new version, what comes to mind is how much better the original dialogue sounded as little as 10 years ago. Every time there is a romantic scene between Peter Parker\Spider-Man (Mark Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) you can’t help but think how much more chemistry there was between Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. I mean really, that upside down kiss in the rain from the original is simply not going to be surpassed anytime soon!
This plot line of this remake remains essentially the same. Peter Parker, high school genius and geek, is cast into a web of crime fighting and revenge when he is accidentally bitten by a genetically modified spider, giving Peter spider-like superpowers. These include the ability to scale walls, swing from buildings, and well…you know the story. Our web slinger is a high school geek by day and becomes a masked crime fighter at night, all the while mourning the violent and untimely death of his uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Academy Award winner Sally Field plays Ben’s wife, Aunt May. Oh, by the way, there really is at least one reptile living in the sewers of New York- a rather large one in a lab coat gunning for our teenage superhero. Large reptiles with superhuman strength make such great arch villains.
Is there chemistry between actors Garfield and Stone? Not really. Does adding heavyweight actors like Sheen and Field make this film any better? No, not really. As a matter of fact, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris did a far more convincing job as Peter’s surrogate parents in the Raimi version. Is this a better film than the original? No. So why bother you might be asking yourself. Listen, I can hear the producers now, “Don’t worry about the script, if we spend 100 million on marketing we’ll make back our money.” Sadly, that’s exactly how much money was spent on the marketing campaign.
There is only one scene in the film which made me sit up and pay attention, the third act where the injured Spider-Man gets a helping hand from the citizens of New York City. Though brief, it really does capture your imagination and fascination. It is the first and only time the film actually comes into its own. If only the rest of the 133 minutes was built on such high standards. Though the storyline is good, (other than the up-dated CGI) all the best cinematic shots, dialogue, and themes have been explored and beaten to death through the original trilogy, leaving this Amazing Spider-Man hanging by a very thin thread.
Unless you are a CGI junky, stick to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 1 & 2.
3/5 Director: Akiva Schaffer
What happens when you cross The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai with Tremors? Something strange, kind of bizarre and ultimately something resembling the latest DVD release of the offbeat sci-fi comedy, The Watch. (And yes, the plot is similar to Attack the Block but only in premise rather than caliber of script.)
Meet Evan (Ben Stiller) a nice enough, “Type A” manager of a small town Costco. He has a simple life—spending his spare time as a Spanish Club volunteer, Running Club founder, Deputy Secretary at the City Council. All is good until the night his friend and night watchman, Antonio (Joe Nunez) is gruesomely murdered at the Costco. No fingerprints, no murder weapon, no clues. Just many unanswered questions, which Evan decides he will answer. Pretty soon, he’s formed a neighbor watch with three other unlikely volunteers. We know these fellows because we’ve all seen them before. They’re the boys that were always picked last in high school sports, or the ones that still think the first words you say to a woman are “Hey, Baby”. Pretty soon Evan and his motley crew of Neighborhood Watch do-gooders are “patrolling” the streets of Glenview, Ohio in their SUV looking for Antonio’s killer. And find him they do. But, as the saying goes, be careful of what you wish for. In this case, be careful of what you look for, you may find it, especially if it turns out to be aliens bent on invading earth. As the boys soon find out, “they” are among us. Difficult to live your lives in a small town, not knowing who your neighbors really are.
Stepping back for a moment, you can’t really go wrong with the talents of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade all in one film, let alone packed into one SUV. They all have screen presence, comic timing and they all know how to hit their marks. And in spite of the “save the world from alien invasion” cliché and a multitude of adolescent jokes, before long you actually come to care for these four guys. Well, there’s the trick isn’t it? If you don’t have an good script, then make the film character driven. (Not be confused with “Hollywood star driven”) If we care about the characters then we can’t help but care about the film. So throw in some adult based subplots, like fertility, and some father and daughter stuff, and one liners that really do deliver and with the earth hanging in the balance what’s there not to like?
While the first two-thirds of the film barely pass with silly humor as we mostly watch boys, be boys, the film takes a turn for the better in the last act when all that time we’ve been mostly grimacing and begrudgingly smiling, we finally begin to laugh out loud. Clever or not the laughter does come and the gags do pay off, turning The Watch into a film that you might actually enjoy enough to write a positive film review about.
Noteworthy off-beat comedy-sci-fi films:
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Men In Black (1997)
What Planet Are You From? (2000)
3/5 Director: Peter Berg
This third movie franchise from one of the world’s largest toy companies, Hasboro (Transformers, G.I. Joe) does its best to build a credible film out of one of the world’s most popular board games.
Unfortunately for this game, the plot itself is full of more holes than the actual Battleship game grid, yet, in spite of this, Battleship in the end actually transitions to film surprisingly well, complete with battleships, pegs, explosions, sound effects and aliens. Wait aliens? What aliens? But more about them game crashers later.
The plot. Loose cannon brother, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is forced by older brother (Alexander Skarsgård) to join the navy as his last chance to make something of himself. Enter the aliens- ugly, ruthless, technologically advanced, and just plain mean. When they attack (coincidentally in the exact same location of the ocean where our young hero is being bounced out of the Navy even as the aliens surreptitiously descend upon our earth) this is where the mettle of our young hero is tested. General Patton supposedly said, “pressure creates diamonds”. If this is true, our hero is about to become a 30 caret gem.
With all the senior officers dead, command is thrust upon the young Alex. He needs to step up, and step up he does especially in act 3 of the film where everything comes together. But make no mistake about it, as mentioned before, Battleship is filled with its share of hits and misses.
Misses: the plot (how many alien invasion films has there been?) Liam Neeson (in more of a cameo than a starring role) as an admiral and father of our hero’s love interest, Rihanna as a smart-mouthed radar tech, the fact that no other country on earth really seems to react to the landing, the fact that the only scientist who might able to help halt the attack is coincidentally at the place where they land, and a contrived romance obviously placed there to add some depth to a fairly depth-less script. But all these things sort of go along with the package, and like little boats on the grid you know their only role is to keep the game going, basically so you have more things to shoot at.
Hits: Industrial Light and Magic eye dazzling effects, decent acting jobs from Kitsch, Skarsgard and Tadanobu Asano (as a Japanese rival captain), the alien artillery that looks just like the pegs from the games, and the coolest part of all, the “wall” that the aliens erect that prevents either side from really knowing where the other one is, so like the board game, the battles literally becomes games of hit and miss.
So if you can forget (and forgive) the fact the film is based on a board game, that no alien on earth would even land in the middle of navel exercises, and that a guy would ever risk a jail sentence for a woman and a chicken burrito, if you forget those things, and if there is enough butter on the microwaved popcorn, you can actually enjoy the film. Once the artillery clears, the hits and misses have been tallied, you have film that surprisingly enough does deliver.
Noteworthy alien invasion films:
Independence Day (1996)
War of the Worlds (1953)
The Blob (1958)
Day of the Triffids (1962)
The Thing (1982)