Monday, November 26, 2012

Lincoln: Shot on Location (Too Soon?)

Surprise, surprise.  Another year another chance for Spielberg to pick up another Academy Award.  Now, this is not me complaining about Lincoln in the slightest, but I'm ready to watch fun Spielberg again.  Dude, you've got so many awards, can't you do another Minority Report or Jurassic Park or Catch Me If You Can?  I want to see the fun high-spirited Spielberg who directs great action and has fantastic humor.  Not, I haven't won an Oscar in awhile so I gotta do War Horse Spielberg.  Give us a break, man!

Rant aside, Lincoln is a fantastic film.  Were you expecting that?  Of course you were.  Daniel Day-Lewis crawls out of his cave after four years of silence?  The man only reappears when the script essentially guarantees him a nomination or five (save for Nine) because, let's face it, he's the best method actor in Hollywood.  Nobody plants themselves into a role as deep as Day-Lewis does.  And he's given us some of the best characters (villains) in movie history.  Combine him with the worlds most famous director and you (should) have film glory.

Don't be fooled by the trailers or the title of the film, this is not a biopic of Abraham Lincoln's life or tenure in the white house.  Lincoln chronicles the life of the President a few months before his death as he's eagerly trying to pass the thirteenth amendment.  That's it.  Don't expect to see a lot of Civil War scenes ala Saving Private Ryan with muskets.  Don't expect to see Day-Lewis proudly giving the Gettysburg Address.  No.  It is just about the President and his cabinet attempting to find twenty extra votes in the House of Representatives in favor of the amendment.

It took me a good forty minutes of the film to figure that out, but once I did I was able to sit back and enjoy.  Now, I'm not going to lie to you, the film is incredibly slow at parts.  It is dialogue heavy with political banter abounds and for those uninterested in the history of politics, the first half of the film may filibuster you out of the theater early (you see what I did there?).  But, if you can sit back and watch this history in action, I can tell you that the movie as a whole is highly successful in its cause.

It's got a great cast of supporting characters.  Tommy Lee Jones in particular is a magnificent grumbly old Representative with a sharp tongue and a comeback for everyone.  He knows when to speak and knows when to scowl.  It was also nice to see James Spader back on the screen and having fun.  Sally Field plays Mary Lincoln so great that it's hard to want to see her anywhere near the President.  She's a loony old soul with too many emotional screws loose that all she wants to do is hold Lincoln back... and she knows it!  A cavalcade of supporting actors sprinkled throughout the film also lend to the film's delight including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earl Haley, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, and John Hawkes among others.

But, the real shining star here is, unsurprisingly, Daniel Day-Lewis in his relatively quiet portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.  When you hear of Day-Lewis, you automatically wonder what character spin he's going to put on his role.  Bill "The Butcher" was a greasy New Yorker with a glass eye and a constant grimace.  Daniel Plainview was a monster behind a moustache.  But, Abraham Lincoln is played with some restrain.  He's a soft-spoken, giant-hearted individual.  I've heard some critisism of Day-Lewis' choice on how he portrayed Lincoln as 'safe'.  But, let me assure you there is nothing safe about it.  To be a great actor there needs to be no sign of the actor in the character.  While I still don't think I've ever really seen the real Daniel Day-Lewis, this has to be the furthest from him I've ever seen.  From his mannerisms to his walk slightly slouched, to his smile, right down to the kindness in his eyes.  Lincoln is a man with the utmost love of everyone.  He wants to use his Presidency to do something right and looks at human beings both with him and opposed with love.  Just because he's not "The Butcher" in Lincoln-face, doesn't mean that this isn't some of the finest acting on film in a few years.

Spielberg should also get recognition for his direction.  This should come as no surprise, but it's nearly perfect.  Spielberg has the tendency in his "Academy worthy" films to be a bit long-winded and verbose and nearly bore the living War Horse out of us.  Thankfully, in Lincoln, unlike the aforementioned War Horse, there's life inserted into the film. There's sustainable characters.  There's humor.  There's a film that's not about the most boring goddamn horse in history.  Sorry... sorry.  And while there are moments that a scene will run a little too long, especially in the first half, every moment is just as important as the one preceding it.  War Horse aside, Spielberg still knows how to make a great damn film.

I do not recommend this film to all my readers, because it's not for everyone.  It's overly long, slow-paced, dialogue heavy, with very little visceral action happening on screen.  However, if you can appreciate the slowly dying art of great acting and great filmmaking, I suggest you put this movie next on your list.  Even if it ends up not being your cup of tea, there will still be an appreciation for the film as a whole.  Now, get your damn Oscar, Spielberg, so you can entertain me once more with something mindless and fun.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph: Disney's Best Non-Pixar Pixar Film

I'll give Disney one thing: they know how to make a movie (forgetting, of course, Mars Needs Moms).  They have probably the best animated writers of any company attempting to make a "family" film.  They don't fall into the traps of other studios where one franchise succeeds and ten sequels later it finally fades away (I'm looking at you Shrek and Ice Age).  They work well because they know the definition of family.  It doesn't mean overt obvious fart jokes to get infants to giggle for a few seconds and then finish with an obscure ending inevitably leading towards more film opportunities.  They can tell a great story and finish with dignity.  I say this now but in two years when Wreck-It Ralph 2 is being released you all two of you readers can laugh in my face.

Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, is the villain of the popular arcade game Fix-It Felix.  His entire life purpose is to bash up a large building as quickly as possible while the gamer uses Felix to fix the wreckage.  At the end of the level, Felix is given a medal and Ralph is thrown off the building and into the mud.  After the arcade closes, Ralph solemnly gets up from his mud bath and goes to sleep in the dump under a pile of bricks.  Not necessarily the ideal lifestyle.  All Ralph wants is to be the hero... to win the medal, just once.  So, in an attempt to prove to himself that he's not just a bad guy, he game jumps into another video game and inserts himself into a sugary race track in order to win the coveted medal.  There he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) a small child also wrestling with her own personal demons.

It's great because these two seemingly simple-minded, as well as pre-programmed characters have a lot more going on than what appears on the outside.  On the outside Ralph is a hulk-like giant who can't help but destroy elements in his path.  Vanellope is an obnoxious child who has the same goals and ideals as Ralph-- to win just one race and be accepted by her peers.  The two form an unlikely bond in order to help one another achieve greatness.  In the hands of a lesser production company this movie could've come and gone to theaters without so much as a consideration.  But, because Disney is so apt at telling a magical story, it's one of the better animated movies of the year.

There is plenty in the film for both children and adults.  Children get to empathize with the gentle giant and Vanellope as they band together to defeat the forces holding them back.  Adults get the enjoyment of that ride as well, but they also get nostalgia from the older arcade references from Pac-Man to even Cubert, two characters children today, I'm sure, aren't even aware of (Do kids even know what an arcade even is?).  The jokes also range from immature childish banter, to some clever word play.  There's something for everyone.

I also have to give major props to Disney for knowing how to create conflict.  My God do they know how to stack together plot elements on top of one another to create moments of conflict after conflict after conflict.  Then, when you think everything will work out... they drop another bomb on you to create more conflict and chaos, but every solution to each problem has been pre-thought out and set up all the way to the beginning.  This is Disney's strong suit.  Animated movies like Hotel Transylvania and Madagasgar 7 have lost this edge.  This is why Disney, and more specifically Pixar will always have the monopoly over the great animated movies of the year.

And, let's be honest, Wreck-It Ralph is as close to a Pixar movie as you can get without actually being Pixar.  This year's entry, Brave, while still powerful and beautiful filmmaking, felt more along the lines of a Dreamworks film.  Pixar is generally a fun and high-spirited set of films.  Movies about monsters in closets, talking toys, amnesiac fish, little robots.  And Brave strayed a bit from the colorfulness and happy-go-lucky staple they'd abided by for years and went more for the darker more adventurous movie.  While this is fine, Wreck-It Ralph had more of a Pixar feel to it.  Which is, by no means, a bad thing in the slightest.

The film did, however, fall a bit short of the Pixar standard.  The first thirty minutes feel like your typical obnoxious, run of the mill animated movie, but once the reveals begin to unfold, and the characters are explored in depth even more is when the magic truly starts to shine.  If you have a kid, or even if you don't, you're not going to find a better animated movie again until next year when Pixar returns to present us with its next animated gem.


Argo: Behind-The-Camera-Ben Triumphs Again

There comes a time in any actor's life when he has to realize that he's no longer loved or respected as the actor he once was.  I believe this time came for Ben Affleck somewhere around the Gigli/Daredevil/Surviving Christmas era.  But, instead of deciding to say screw off to all the naysayers, Ben did the respectable thing of stepping back.  He no longer chose to star in another movie for a good long while.  He'd take bit comedic parts in Clerks II or Extract (amazing) to kind off pull a Justin Timberlake on us and make us like him again.  Then, he tried his hand at directing his first film, Gone Baby Gone, which, God bless him, he didn't even star in himself.  He let his brother do it!  And the movie was great.  You could watch that movie and appreciate Affleck for the new director that he is and not the waste of acting Pearl Harbor space that he'd become.  Finally, he snapped back into acting in a lead role with his written/directed The Town, which for all intents and purposes is his best movie.  Affleck was now the comeback kid.  He'd instilled himself back into Hollywood as a reliable figure once more.

So, needless to say when I saw the trailer for Argo, having heard nothing about it before, I was excited.  With only two directorial movies under his belt, I had complete and utter faith in Affleck as a director.  And as a director, he did not let me down.  As an actor... well... we'll get to that.  Argo tells the true story of six fugitive American diplomat personnel hiding out in Iran during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis.  Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA operative tasked with getting them out safely.  His plan: producing a fake science-fiction movie entitled Argo, getting it backed by a producer, make-up artist, financier, and disguisng the six fugitives as people involved with getting the movie filmed.  It's awesome because had this not been an actual historical event, the plot of this movie could've easily been produced as a wacky Sacha Baron Cohen backed movie.

What's great about the film is that whether you know the end result or not, it's still incredibly tense almost the entire way through.  Much like Valkyrie, historically every one knows the conclusion of that story, but while it's happening on screen in front of you, you still question whether or not events are going to transpire the correct way which leads to high tension.  Affleck does a superb job behind the camera filming the movie on regular film instead of digital to give it that grainy late 70s look.  The set design, the wardrobe, make-up and everything are all on par with what you'd expect from a movie in that era, which makes sense considering Affleck took a lot from All The President's Men.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin, as always, are fantastic in their minor roles.  Arkin plays the foul-mouthed dinosaur of a producer who lends the film it's comedic brevity it needs to break the tension so the audience may have a second to catch their breath.  Everyone, even Bryan Cranston, does a fine job in the film, but if I had to point out a weak-link it would be Affleck, himself.  The initial idea for Argo was that Affleck would stay behind the camera and Mendez would be played by Brad Pitt, however scheduling issues arose and Pitt would not be available for the shoot.  If this original plan had been executed as it was intended, I believe the end result would be nothing short of a perfect movie.  But, since Pitt was unavailable, Affleck stepped in as the lead role.  And while he's nothing like his Pearl Harbor/Armageddon self, he's still very stale in the role.  It's almost as if he was more concerned with directing the film that when it was his time to be in front of the camera, he phoned in his lines and actions only to get out of there as quickly as possible.  There's almost no emotion to Affleck's Mendez.  There's no real character there.  He's soft-spoken, to the point, and about as hollow as one could be in a starring role.

Affleck has lost no credibility in the director's chair as far as I'm concerned.  I anxiously await his next project because I'm sure it'll be nothing short of gold.  But, unless he's writing another Boston-set heist movie, he may want to decide to stay in that chair and let someone more capable handle the acting.  Argo is a well paced, thriller that refuses to let go until the very last scene.  I realize I'm a little late in getting to seeing this movie and recommending it, but as well as it is still in theaters, I'd recommend getting to see it before it is gone.


The Perks of Being A Wallflower: Don't Judge A Book By Its Movie

I never read the actual book The Perks of Being a Wallflower but I have to assume that it's a hell of a lot better than its film adaptation.  Not only is it heralded as being one of the better coming-of-age novels of recent memory, it has also been highly recommended to me to read by many people.  I may be giving the novel a bit of an unfair advantage, but the movie was just so blasé that there's no way the book was worse.

The film stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, which if you don't remember his name in the first two minutes of the movie, by God will you know it by the end.  There is a horrible knack of each character saying Charlie's name every four and a half seconds.  Charlie is a troubled fifteen-year-old just entering high school as a freshman.  He has no friends on account of his best friend taking a gun to his head six months prior.  He soon meets seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) a less-than-quirky version of the outcast bff's from Mean Girls.  They form the unlikeliest of likely bonds.  During the school year, Charlie falls for Sam (obviously) which is creepy considering the age difference in a high school senior dating a freshman. 

While the movie was written and directed by the same writer who penned the novel (Stephen Chbosky), I still feel like a lot of liberties were taken.  The novel was written as a series of letters written by Charlie to an unknown person giving detailed accounts of his first year in high school.  And though this is actually a pretty ingenious writing format for the novel, it doesn't necessarily translate that smoothly to film.  There are sporadic voice-overs of Charlie reading his letters, but they always seem a bit jarring and out of place.  It's as if Chbosky wanted to incorporate the structure of the novel into his film, however, the end result just kind of flatlines.

This isn't the only problem I had with the film, either.  While this is supposed to be a coming-of-age tale, I feel as though the 1980s John Hughes movies are leaps and bounds above what this movie was trying to accomplish.  Charlie is a troubled kid with repressed memories of his past and fits of blacking out, yet Lerman is a decent looking kid. He's attractive, well-spoken and essentially the exact opposite of the type of "wallflower" I assume the book describes.  Emma Watson, using her best attempt at an American accent is terrible in the film.  While I personally don't think she is a bad actress, it was hard for me to accept the fact that she was the perfect person to fit the role.

I think my biggest issue with the film, though, is the dialogue.  For once I would actually like to watch a "coming-of-age" high school movie with real issues that real people can relate to.  I want high school kids to speak like high school kids not like a forty-something writer with existential and philosophical agendasncies.  I don't think many high school students have that defining moment of adolescence whilst standing in the bed of a truck listening to an unknown song and feeling "infinite".  The high school characters in the film are too abstruse and recondite to have any sort of lasting affect on viewers of the same age.  The Breakfast Club or even Mean Girls itself has more to say to today's kids than this movie ever could.

In the film, Charlie forms a bond with his freshman English teacher, played by Paul Rudd.  While I'm sure (at least I hope) in the novel their relationship is more fleshed out and powerful, here it feels like a waste of time.  We get intermittent scenes of Rudd giving Charlie different books to read and giving him generalized advice on love, but also having no major impact on the story of the film.  I think what has happened here is that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an unfilmable book and should never have been attempted to be translated into film.  While the movie isn't a total disaster, and there are good moments and bits of humor sprinkled throughout, for those who have not read it, myself included, should probably have just stayed home and enjoyed it the way it was meant to be enjoyed-- in paperback.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Skyfall: Shaken And Stirred

We are in the age of Christopher Nolan.  His formula is what will constitute what makes a great action movie and what makes a forgettable one.  A great action movie starts with a badass opening action scene that lasts a good ten minutes before the credits even appear.  Next, we will get backstory and set-up-- all the information released in order to set us up on our exciting albeit convoluted journey.  Next, we introduce a villain so extraordinarily hardcore its hard not to root for him.  Every scene without said villain is just a little bit weaker.  Then, there's the first confrontation of hero and villain... obviously villain wins this one and escapes.  But, this just lights a fire under the ass of our hero only to get them wanting victory even more.  A few more plot reveals, a few more minor characters offed and we're at the titular final battle sequence where, more or less, the hero is supposed to win.  Christopher Nolan has perfected this art like Andy Warhol perfected a can of Campbell's soup.  What makes Skyfall so great is that it channels Nolan's world of action rather than the already established James Bond formula that has become predictable and archaic.

James Bond is getting old.  I don't necessarily mean the film series, though fifty years is quite a long time for a movie franchise to still be making money.  No, I mean Daniel Craig's James Bond is getting old.  He's becoming more and more human.  He's aging and his skills are wearing.  I mean, the guy's been shot at least ten times, come on!  This is where we find our Bond.  After a botched assignment and Bond assumed dead, an unknown terrorist starts targeting MI6 and, more specifically, M (Judi Dench).  So, naturally, Bond snaps into action, bangs a few no-names, kills a few henchmen, and does what Bond does best-- everything.

This is one of the better Bond films in the last decade.  Though, I am still calling Casino Royale Daniel Craig's best entry, Skyfall comes in at a close second.  Now, this might just my own preference, but I enjoy action movies much better when there is a competent villain.  When it's Bond vs. some crazy asshole it's so much better than Bond against corporations (*cough* Quantum *cough*) or randoms.  Not just Bond movies either.  Look at the best action movies ever made.  John McClane isn't a five-movie legend without having squared up against Hans Gruber first.  John Travolta wouldn't have had to take his face off if it wasn't for Nicolas Cage.  And let's not forget about The Joker.  There's a reason no one likes Die Hard 2.  There's a reason Pierce Brosnan never really won the hearts of Bond lovers... he never had anyone cool enough to go up against.

Javier Bardem, having already arguably played one of the top five villains of all time already, had a bit of a challenge on his hands.  How to channel that Anton Chigur intensity into a new villain opposing a British dude we know is never going to die.  Bardem plays villain Silva perfectly.  And because writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have successfully channeled their inner Chris Nolan, there's a lot of The Joker in Silva.  He's an ex-MI6 agent with a personal vendetta against M.  In other words, he's a batshit crazy lunatic terrorist with an Oedipus complex.  He's not concerned with killing Bond or hurting Bond.  The only concern he has is Bond trying to stop him, but he respects James Bond and loves the hunt more than the kill.  He's the type of guy to walk unprotected into a courthouse and start shooting the place up.  He's a brilliant foe for 007 because just like Bond, himself, they both do not fear death.  It's Bardem's Silva that drives the movie making it one of the best 007 films in the last decade.

I wasn't a big fan of Quantum of Solace.  I appreciated that they decided to do a direct-sequel to Casino Royale instead of a separate adventure starring the same dude.  I liked the first forty-five minutes of the movie quite a bit because it was chock full of great action and story.  But, the rest of the movie was a complex puzzle of a plot ending in an incredibly anti-climactic "action-sequence".  I was worried watching the first hour of Skyfall that it would fall into the same trap being that the first fifteen minutes are tense and harrowing, but the next forty-five (all devoid of Bardem, by the way) are slow-moving and plot-driven backstory and set-up leading to what was seeming like nowhere.  But, alas, two writers dug deep down into their soul to the furthest pit of Chris Nolan and pulled out something miraculous: a great movie.  All of the aforementioned so-called boring set-up was actually leading towards fun and exciting payoffs.  Where Quantum of Solace ultimately failed, Skyfall succeeds tenfold.

For hardcore fans of the Bond series, fret not, Bond is still Bond.  He's just not the superhuman, indestructible robot he's been in the past.  He's been humanized even further and it actually works.  What director Sam Mendes chose to do that other Bond directors have failed at is adapting Bond to what's relevant.  Campy villains and futuristic gadgets and invisible cars aren't what's entertaining and engaging to audiences now.  Right now, we're in the Nolan era.  You better adapt or you're gonna get Darwin'd, sucka.  Nevertheless, Mendes had also found clever ways of including Bond staples into this film without it seeming forced.  A martini is shaken and handed to Bond, to which he responds "just the way I like it".  Subtle, yet awesome.  Even the classic Aston Martin has found its way back into the hearts of Bond fans alike.

Of course, 007 will be back and I'm not sure how much longer the writers will be able to sustain the level of Nolan-ism they're at right now, but for now James Bond is just too legit.  Too legit... to die.


7 Reasons World War Z Is Gonna Suck

The trailer for Max Brooks' book adaptation World War Z was released yesterday.  And, I'm not gonna lie... for as much as I wish it was going to be as awesome as it should be... it's gonna suck big thick ones.  Why?  Here's seven reasons:

1. Rewrites/Reshoots/Pushing back the date.  Z was originally scheduled for a November release.  However, due to crappy writing and crappy filmmaking getting noticed, the cast was called back for re-shoots and the film was delayed to next summer.  This is NEVER the sign of a good movie.

2. It looks nothing like the book.  The book was a beautiful follow-up satire to The Zombie Survival Guide.  This looks like your generic big-budget action movie with no story or heart.

3. Traditional zombies... like the ones Max Brooks writes about... are slow and creepy.  Not crazy Olympic runners from Uganda.  Fast zombies suck.

4. Ed Harris dropped out of the picture early on.  They say it was due to "scheduling conflicts"... yeah, right, Ed.

5. Since when has Brad Pitt made a good movie with his creepy long hair?  TroyLegends of the Fall?  Short hair Pitt is the only good Pitt.

6. Seriously though, it's almost 2013... why does the CGI zombie-pyramid look fake as hell??  I've seen good CGI.  I know we have the technology.  So why does it all look like we're still making I Am Legend?

7. Because I so desperately want it to be good.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Man With The Iron Fists: Kung-Foolish Calamity

Let's just get this out of the way right now: The Man With The Iron Fists is not a movie that is intended to be taken seriously.  It's mean to take the antiquated Kung-Fu style and blow it up to bigger and better proportions.  But, it's also not a good movie, either.  The tongue-and-cheek concept it was aiming for misses by quite a lot.  Where Kill Bill knew how to successfully build an homage around an original idea, this movie falls by the wayside.  I do have to hand it to writer/producer/director/star RZA for attempting to do something just batshit crazy fun and even roping in Russell Crowe (wtf is Russell Crowe doing in this movie??) for a role that allows us to see a lighter side to the man.  But, overall, the finished product feels like a bunch of teenagers with a big budget and no real ability to tell a story.

I would love to give a brief plot synopsis of the film, but I'm not entirely sure what I'd say.  There isn't much of a plot-- more of like ten excuses to bring ten different clans together to one spot to have a full on blood orgy.  RZA plays a blacksmith dating a prostitute who both dream of getting out of the city.  Bad Asian actor number one wants to avenge his father's death.  Bad Asian actor number two killed Bad Asian actor number one's father and wants to start a war with Asian Clan who all want gold.  Russell Crowe is a British badass with a gun-knife looking for a vacation and reasons to kill people.  Gold is the Macguffin that leads each of these one-dimensional characters towards their ultimate destination.

What works is the stylized fighting sequences-- and there are a lot of them.  Not a whole lot else happens in between each fight, but when the violence ends the shoddy attempt at a story begins.  First of all, I would recommend this movie only be watched with no sound.  The dialogue is abysmal.  And I understand that the intention was to playfully recreate old Kung-Fu dialogue cliches, but the entire movie's dialogue is just that.  Save for Russell Crowe (seriously, wtf is Russell Crowe doing in this movie??) who's actually the best and most likable character in the film, every character, including RZA, is given the worst possible strung together words that barely form sentences.  After awhile it becomes nails on a chalkboard.  The fights stop being something you look forward to because of the awesome ultraviolence, but more as a refreshing break from actors speaking.

That being said, it is still a fun movie to watch.  It's like Saturday morning cartoons for adults.  RZA knows his audience and what they want.  There's not really a plot because there doesn't need to be one.  I know I wasn't looking for any sort of palpable storyline-- I wanted to see suckas get killed.  RZA co-wrote the script with Eli Roth, which is fitting because the guy knows how to kill his actors in very original ways, but also doesn't possess that knack of piecing together a cohesive narrative.

So, if it's mindless Kung-Fu violence or an hour an a half vacation from your brain, then give it a whirl.  But, if there's anything more you had in mind, you might try venturing to another theater.  Because halfway through the movie, after I'd already grown tired of what I was watching, I couldn't think of anything else other than-- seriously, wtf is Russell Crowe doing in this movie?? (And why haven't I seen Argo yet???)


Flight: The Denzel Show

There are truly only a handful of great directors.  I don't necessarily mean great in the sense that they consistently make good movies, but I'm talking directors who have defined generations.  Scorsese is the master of the gangster flick (sorry Francis Ford Coppola fans).  Spielberg knows how to successfully do big-budget without looking like a complete tool.  Tarantino turned mundane conversation into film prestige.  Lucas, well... I'd rather not touch that one right now.  Each of these directors have something in common-- their ability to make a single movie-going experience into something long-lasting and generationally distinguished.  I truly believe Robert Zemeckis belongs with these directors.  Where would we be without Back to the Future?  What would we watch at 3:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday on TBS when they've already shown The Shawshank Redemption six consecutive times in a row?  Or what life lessons would have been eschewed from Forrest Gump in the hands of a less capable director?  Zemeckis is a film staple that, unfortunately, for the last ten years was unable to fulfill his directorial expectations.  He left the world of live-action films to pursue a new technology giving us three unexceptional movies-- The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol-- instead of doing what he does best.  Third time was not a charm, Bob.  Take the hint.

And it appears as though he did.  Robert Zemeckis returns to form with his first live-action film since CastawayFlight stars Denzel Washington as airline pilot Captain "Whip" Whitaker, who through years of experience of being the best pilot to ever live, crash lands a malfunctioning plane safely saving the lives of nearly everyone on board.  He's automatically hailed as a hero until it is discovered that he had a significant amount of alcohol and cocaine in his blood during the crash.  With the public looking for someone to blame for the incident, this does not bode well for Whip.  This portion of the film takes up nearly the first half.  The rest of the film is an intense character study about an alcoholic unwilling and unable to admit to his addiction.  Don Cheadle is a lawyer brought in by the airline to defend Whip and somehow get around his tox scan.  But, as the film progresses we see that Whip has absolutely no control over his addiction and falls deeper and deeper into the alcoholic rabbit hole.

The film may be a bit misleading in the previews.  One might expect a harrowing mystery thriller about a pilot crash-landing a plane in a most unorthodox way and the outsiders looking for a concrete reason to put him away for good.  However, what plays out is much darker and much more character driven than one might expect and I found this to be refreshing.  I like it when a movie defies my expectations in a good way.  But, this movie, my devout readers, is the Denzel show all the way.  Denzel usually falls into a character pattern in which he plays the same character in each movie he's in.  Unlike other less-talented actors who fall into this same pit, Denzel is fantastic at it.  Whether he's a villian or the unlikely hero, you always know what to expect from him.  He's always the same guy and we love him for it.  Flight shows us acting chops we knew Denzel has, but doesn't reveal most of the time.  As Whip, we can see the progression from bad to worse.  He knows how to subtly and explicitly portray a man so deep in his alcoholism you can't even feel pity for him.

I personally believe this is some of the best acting I've seen from Denzel Washington since Training Day.  There are many layers to Whip that Denzel reveals when he feels is necessary.  We can see into the soul of a disturbed human being and it's not what you would call pleasing to see.  He's a man who goes to a funeral only to make sure one of the flight attendants doesn't testify wrongly on his behalf.  He's despicable, yet there's a certain empathy you can feel for him. I would nominate him in a second, but unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that his performance will be sadly overlooked.

John Goodman plays Whip's drug dealer and steals nearly every single scene he's in.  He's almost channeling his Walter character from The Big Lebowski just with less PTSD and external rage.  He lightens the mood for just a bit even in scenes that for all intents and purposes should be very uncomfortable and difficult to watch.  Though the film runs about twenty minutes too long, Flight is still one of the best movies I've seen this year.  And, though it may not be exactly what you'd expect, it still delivers on what you want.  It keeps the tension high.  Throughout.  Whether it's the terrifying plane crash (which you know is effective when you're fully aware he's going to land it safely, but you're still clutching your seat) or Whip staring at a bottle of vodka with nothing but temptation in his eyes.  It's a great movie that will be overlooked come awards season, but shouldn't be overlooked while it's still available to enjoy in theaters.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Pitch Perfect: Men With Fully Functioning Junk Need Not Apply

Unfortunately, because I have one set of testicles too many to aptly review Pitch Perfect, I will not be giving it a proper grade.  I may have made one too many mistakes in my life that led me to the theater where I watched this film.  The first being that I avoided any and all trailers of the film.  I saw who was in it.  I read the synopsis and I was immediately turned off from it.  But... after reading several positive reviews of the film I was a little more persuaded to give it a chance.  Then, a male co-worker friend of mine (whose man card has since been revoked) told me that it was actually funny and that I should give it a shot.  And lastly, because I have an amazing girlfriend who not only doesn't make me watch anything with the words Twi or Light in it, but also sees junky action films with me without complaint, my decision was therefore made.

Oh, what a mistake it was.  And though I'd rather watch Pitch Perfect once a day for the rest of my life than ever see another Breaking New Eclipse Moon Twilight Dawn Parts 1, 2, 5, 12, and 30 ever again, it was still a rather harrowing experience.  But, I was cautiously optimistic.  I mean, surely it couldn't be as bad as Glee.  I mean, there's a way to make a capella funny, right? Wrong!  The further into the movie I got the more I could feel a vagina growing between my legs.  By the time I hit the scene where a group of girls on a bus are harmonizing to Miley Cyrus, my girlfriend and I were literally on the same menstrual cycle.  By the end credits I had only one desire-- to hop over to the next theater and watch Liam Neeson kill some random foreigners.  So, unless you're a woman and reading this just stay away.  Because, though it will definitely earn you some relationship brownie points, you have to wonder if it's truly worth it.

(Letter grade omitted due to the reviewer having to get vaginal reconstruction surgery to make it look like the penis he once had)