Movie Review: Flight [2012]

Flight [2012]

Flight [2012]
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Drama
Starring: Denzel Washington, Tamara Tunie, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 138 minutes

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an alcoholic and a drug abuser. He sleeps with prostitutes, has a dysfunctional relationship with his ex-wife and son, and parties far more often than he should. He’s also a commercial airlines pilot, and a damn good one at that.

One morning, still drunk after a boozy night with a flight attendant, Whitaker snorts a few lines of cocaine and then heads to the airport, ready to pilot a flight to Atlanta. Despite some concerns from his co-pilot, Whip appears no worse for the wear as he takes control and guides the plane through some rough turbulence during takeoff. Problems arise near the end of the flight when the plane’s hydraulics give out, causing it to take a steep dive in what is certain to be a horrific crash. Only thanks to some quick thinking from Whip, in which he seems to be acting purely on instinct, does the inevitable plane crash manage to happen with minimal casualties. It’s an astonishing feat, and an impressive scene to boot.

Flight [2012]

Whip should be labeled a hero after this, right? After all, he saved nearly a hundred lives due to his swift actions, and most pilots wouldn’t even fathom trying what he did. If only it were that simple.

As they do for every aviation incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) performs an investigation of the crash and quickly finds out that Whitaker was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine while flying the plane. Now, instead of being hailed for his heroic efforts, Whip is looking at the very serious charges of intoxicated manslaughter, as well as a huge legal case. Could Whip have acted the way he did if he hadn’t been high/drunk at the time? Would all of those lives have been saved? Ultimately, it’s a moot point.

Flight [2012]

What’s interesting is that after the crash, Whip has all sorts of people trying to help him out, yet he keeps going back to the bottle. At the hospital while recovering from his injuries, he befriends Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a woman recovering from a drug overdose. She stands as something of the opposite of Whip — someone willing to go to AA meetings and attempt to change her life. The airplane’s pilot union, represented by Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), delivers him an attorney (Don Cheadle) to help drop the criminal charges, including all traces of the toxicology reports. With all this support, why won’t Whitaker get help?

That’s the power of addiction. Director Robert Zemeckis nails this issue with devastating effectiveness, even if he sometimes goes about it in rather obvious ways. A bit more subtlety would have been welcome, especially during one laughably on-the-nose scene where Kelly enters her apartment to shoot heroin as the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Under the Bridge” plays. Still, Whip’s descent from hero to rock bottom is masterful, undeniably aided by a stellar performance from Denzel Washington. This is Denzel’s best work in years, and he deserves the accolades he has been receiving. It’s also great to see John Goodman step in and deliver much-needed comic relief in a couple scenes as Whip’s longtime hippie friend/dealer, Harling Mays.

When Flight is brought up in conversation, most will mention Denzel’s excellent work, and perhaps the intensity of the airplane crash, but the bottom line is that this is one of the most compelling looks at addiction in recent years.

8/10

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Movie Review: Argo [2012]

Argo [2012]

Argo [2012]
Director: Ben Affleck
Genre: Biography/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Runtime: 120 minutes

It’s always a joy to watch a film that is based on a true story so unbelievable that it just couldn’t be a work of fiction. Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort focuses on one such tale, a CIA case that was not declassified until nearly 20 years later in 1997.

Argo begins in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. The film faithfully reenacts the depiction of a large group of Iranian revolutionaries protesting outside the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The protests grow larger and more violent, and eventually the mob swarms the embassy, taking 52 Americans hostage. A group of six men and women manage to escape before this happens, and they are eventually taken in by the Canadian embassy.

Argo [2012]

Faced with an international crisis, the U.S. State Department begins looking for ways to extract the escaped six before the Iranians realize they are missing. This is where CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes in. Faced with a number of unfeasible extradition suggestions (one of which entails giving the group some bicycles and telling them to bike 300+ miles to the Turkey border), Mendez comes up with one of his own: pretend to be a Canadian film scout who is visiting Iran as a possible shooting location. In return, he will bring back the six Americans as members of his film crew.

As the “best bad idea” the CIA has, Mendez gets approval from his supervisor, Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston), and heads to Hollywood to set up a fake studio. With the help of John Chambers (John Goodman), a master makeup artist, and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), a film producer, the trio set up a phony office to lend credibility to the project. They even invite the press to their fake shooting in order to get additional publicity. It’s a wild idea, no doubt, but Mendez is determined to see it through, and he flies to Tehran in hopes of accomplishing his goal.

Argo [2012]

Now, since this is based on a true story, many will already know the outcome of the film. Pay no mind to this — knowing what happens does not lessen this film in any way possible. As a director, Affleck knows how to ramp up the suspense, creating a number of tense, memorable moments that will leave viewers doubting their recollections of the actual events.

Affleck also nailed the 1970s setting. Everything here is expertly portrayed, from the absurd fashion choices — complete with shaggy hair, thick moustaches and large-rimmed glasses — to what looks and feels like authentic archival footage of the revolution. Seriously, the man did his homework.

Argo [2012]

It helps to have a strong, witty screenplay, especially one that is delivered by an impressive arsenal of top Hollywood stars. Affleck shines in the lead role, but it’s especially fun to watch the group of character actors attached to the project. Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin (who gets to deliver the film’s most memorable line), Kyle Chandler, Philip Baker Hall and others all turn in memorable performances, even if they are ever so small.

It’s hard to find fault in Argo. Perhaps more emphasis could have been placed on character development when it comes to the American Six, but they are just pieces in what is a large, encompassing operation. As far as historical films go, this is a great one, and it is one of the year’s best. Don’t be surprised if Argo comes up in quite a few categories in this year’s awards season.

9/10

Movie Project #35: O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Genre: Comedy/Adventure/Crime
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman and Holly Hunter
Runtime: 106 minutes

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of those films that just slipped through the cracks for me over the years. I remember the soundtrack being a hot commodity — and damn that bluegrass is infectious — but never sat down to watch the entire movie. It’s a shame that it took me twelve years to see this because this is yet another ridiculously fun effort from the Coen brothers.

Set in 1930s rural Mississippi and loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey”, the film follows the exploits of three escaped convicts who are in search of hidden treasure. The trio, comprised of de facto leader Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) and his two pals, Pete Hogwallop (Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Nelson), run into all sorts of trouble on their journey. Not only are they constantly chased by the law, they also have a habit of becoming entangled in other unexpected endeavors. They form a bluegrass group — the Soggy Bottom Boys — with a young black musician named Tommy (Chris Thomas King), and as a result somehow get caught up in a political race as well as a KKK rally. The group also comes across undesirable characters including a trio of “Sirens”, a one-eyed bible thumper (Goodman) and a bipolar bank robber named George Nelson (Michael Badalucco).

Oh yeah, and in the middle of this, Ulysses is trying to get back with his estranged wife, Penny (Holly Hunter). It’s a wild ride for sure.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

At its core, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a road movie, and we are there for the entire epic adventure. The aforementioned run-ins with other characters lead to a number of memorable scenes, many of which are so ridiculous that it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Of course, the addictive soundtrack adds even more to the overall film, and even non-bluegrass fans should enjoy the catchy tunes. Even as I sit here writing this review, I have “Man of Constant Sorrow” stuck in my head. That’s a good thing.

Clooney, Turturro and Nelson make for an entertaining trio, and they play off each other fantastically. Clooney’s natural charisma makes him the obvious choice for the leader of the group, but I was most impressed with Nelson’s humorous slack-jawed yokel of a performance. The overall cast is amazingly well-rounded, with great takes from Goodman, Hunter and my personal favorite, Stephen Root, who plays a blind radio station manager that gives the Soggy Bottom Boys their big break.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

While some may find fault in how O Brother, Where Art Thou? sometimes feels like a collection of short films thrown together as one, there’s no denying that this is uproarious fun from beginning to end. The Coen brothers have a knack for these zany comedies, and the script is full of brilliant, quick-witted dialogue. I had a great time with this film, and I get the feeling that this is one that just gets better with age.

8.5/10

Movie Review: The Artist [2011]

The Artist [2011]

The Artist [2011]
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Genre: Comedy/Romance/Drama
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman
Runtime: 100 Minutes

Of all the films generating Oscar buzz right now, The Artist is most intriguing. It is not often a silent movie is made in this day and age, and perhaps this novelty is its greatest appeal. This is a sparkling homage that revels in its silent nature, even opting to break out of past molds and play with the dynamics a little.

The year is 1927. Silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) is on top of the world as one of the biggest names in the business. His partnership with studio boss Al Zimmer (Goodman) has resulted in a great deal of success, and the two seem in for a lucrative future.

Fast forward to two years later. Zimmer announces the end of production of silent films, claiming that “talkies” are the future of the business. Valentin calls this transition a fad, and opts to produce and direct his own silent film. This doesn’t go well, and another series of unfortunate events leads to Valentin hitting rock bottom.

The Artist [2011]

Meanwhile, young up-and-comer Peppy Miller (Bejo), an acquaintance of Valentin’s, is taking advantage of the new medium and has become a star in her own right. The two have an interesting history — it was Valentin who “made” her trademark mole so she would stand out from other aspiring actresses. There is a clear connection between them, and they continue to cross each other’s paths from time to time (sometimes conveniently when they need each other most).

There are some pretty heavy moments in The Artist, particularly when Valentin is alone and wallowing in his own self pity. However, when he and Miller are on screen together, the movie becomes electric. Their chemistry is terrific, and Dujardin and Bejo are both so much fun to watch. Dujardin, in particular, seems like he could have been a silent film star himself. His natural charisma translates very well to the movie’s classic setting.

The Artist is a real crowd pleaser, and it’s easy to see why it is blowing up the awards circuit right now. There are just so many enjoyable aspects of the movie — the charming little dog Uggie who brings laughter to a few scenes, the strategically wonderful use of vocals on rare occasions, the frequent nods to cinematic classics — that it’s hard not to fall in love with The Artist. This is a movie that even those ignorant of silent or black-and-white films can appreciate.

9/10

Dabbling In Mediocrity: Bad Teacher [2011] and Red State [2011]

I watched both of these movies recently but couldn’t be bothered to write up full reviews for them.

Bad Teacher [2011]
Bad Teacher [2011]
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake.

When it comes to comedies, I have a pretty open mind. Hell, I enjoyed The Hangover 2, despite most critics and blogger extraordinaires hating it. So I had fairly reasonable expectations for Bad Teacher, believing I might enjoy it more than others. Nope, not the case at all. Cameron Diaz’s role as the “bad teacher” is less than desirable. She’s bad all right, making me question how she ever got a teaching gig in the first place, but she’s also a truly unlikable character that should not have been the focus of a movie. I was hoping for some redeeming factors from her, anything at all, but that never happened. Therefore, when “bad” things started happening to her, I could care less. Nothing was resolved in the end, and the movie felt like an utter waste of time.

I laughed a few times, but the jokes were few and far in between, and ultimately forgettable. The movie also wasted the talents of Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel, as both play fellow teachers who don’t do really do much of anything. At least shit/fart jokes were kept to a minimum, and watching Cameron Diaz do her version of a sexy car wash was entertaining. Not one of this year’s finer comedic efforts, that’s for sure. 5/10

Red State [2011]
Red State [2011]
Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman.

Why, oh why, was this marketed as a horror movie? Kevin Smith’s latest flick is unlike anything else he has made, although it is on par with Cop Out in terms of quality. The movie starts off harmless enough in the guise of a horror film, as a trio of teenage boys are lured into a murderous trap by an extremist religious group not unlike the Westboro Baptist Church. From there, the film quickly turns into an irritating propaganda piece that ultimately becomes a boring shootout. It’s all over the damn place, and not in a way that offers much value to the viewer.

Red State is an example of a great concept ruined by a lack of proper vision. Look, I despise the Westboro Baptist Church and their homophobic ways just as much as the next guy, but they could have been the subjects of a proper horror film, not this misguided venture. There are occasional glimmers of light, particularly in the form of Michael Parks and John Goodman. Parks’ role as a rambling lunatic of a preacher is played to villainous perfection, and Goodman is fun to watch as always. It’s a shame that Red State turned out the way it did, because there is a better movie buried in their *somewhere*. 5/10