13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (2016)

January 17, 2016

13 Hours Greetings again from the darkness. Given that his last “true” story movie was Pearl Harbor (2001), and he is best known for the endless stream of Transformers movies (yes, another one is on the way), it’s understandable how we could be apprehensive (to say the least) about director Michael Bay taking on the Benghazi story. A sigh of relief is in order as the film pays tribute to those who deserve it while still providing Bay the opportunity to blow stuff up, and display his always-annoying tendencies with a camera.

The incredibly courageous soldiers, who comprised the CIA security team (GRS) of contractors that saved many lives, are the heroes of the story and heroes in real life. Bay never loses focus on their bravery and dedication, and avoids the temptation of taking an obvious political stance in telling their story. At the same time, he doesn’t shy away from making a weaslley CIA administrator type (played by David Constable) the face of bureaucratic incompetence.

The six man team is played in the movie by John Krasinski (as Jack Silva), James Badge Dale (beefed up from his “Pacific” days as Tyrone “Rone” Woods), Pablo Schreiber (as Kris “Tanto” Paronto), David Denman (as Dave “Boon” Benton), Dominic Fumusa (as John “Tig” Tiegen), and Max Martini (as Mark “Oz” Geist). All six actors are clearly proud to represent these men, and though wise-cracks abound, there is absolutely no Hollywood preening or posturing … these are gritty, well-trained, dedicated warriors.

So much as been written and debated about what happened during the 2012 siege that resulted in the tragic deaths of four Americans, including that of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. But given the reputations of those in the CIA and the State Department, it’s doubtful full disclosure will ever replace the holes of doubt that exist, so studying the action sequences makes sense … though we also get a Joseph Campbell reference. Chuck Hogan adapted Mitchell Zuckoff’s book for the film, and in between the rapid gun fire and missiles, that deafening silence you hear is Washington, D.C.

watch the trailer:

 

 

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DIFF 2015 – Days 6 and 7

April 17, 2015

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Days 6 and 7, Wednesday and Thursday April 15 and 16

Below is a recap of the four movies I saw over these two days. I am counting the six Documentary Shorts as one movie since it was one block on the festival programming:

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS – DIFF 2015

The Dallas International Film Festival is a great place to catch up with those hard to find short films. It’s not unusual for short films to be later developed into feature films, but regardless, the short film format requires a unique skill set for writers, directors and actors. A connection must be made immediately with the viewer because there is no time for gradual acceptance or interest.

Short films come in three flavors: live action, animated, and documentary. Below is a recap of the six documentary short films at this year’s DIFF.

Crooked Candy (USA)

Directed by Andrew Rodgers. Kinder eggs are illegal in the United States as they are considered a choking hazard for kids. However, this collector has hundreds of the miniature figures/toys thanks to decades of pursuing the eggs through his global travels.

(The And) Marcella & Rock (USA)

Directed by Topaz Adizes. A couple face off against each other with some extremely personal questions. In a matter of minutes, the audience is as uncomfortable listening as the participants are in revealing very private thoughts.

Spearhunter (USA)

Directed by Adam Ruffman, Luke Poling. The story of Gene Morris who successfully fought to get spearhunting approved as an acceptable form of hunting in Alabama. Guns and bows lacked the challenge that Morris desired.  We even visit his legacy – a Spearhunting museum that houses some of the trophies from his 592 kills. His ex-wife labels the late Mr. Morris a serial animal killer.

Master Hoa’s Requiem (USA)

Directed by Scott Edwards. Master Hoa was one of the hundreds of thousands who fled South Vietnam by boat in 1975. In the process, he lost his family. We see how he re-established a new life, and we go with him on a heart-breaking search for the graves of his family.

Cast in India (India/USA)

Directed by Natasha Reheja. Have you ever noticed that the manhole covers in NYC are stamped “Made in India”? Ms. Reheja noticed and thus began her journey to foundry where the bronze plates are crafted. It turns out these are highly skilled workers who take great pride in their work, face labor union issues, and sacrifice their hands, feet and backs for the manually intensive manufacturing process.

The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (Australia)

Directed by Kitty Green. We see a stream of auditions from girls of various ages wanting the highly coveted role of the Ukrainian legendary figure skater Oksana Baiul – former World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist.

That’s it for the documentary shorts. Below are the three features I watched in addition to the previous doc shorts.

ECHOES OF WAR

echoes of war Greetings again from the darkness. The fallout from war goes beyond the violence and massive loss of life. Returning soldiers often struggle to regain a sense of normalcy, and are often labeled as PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  And what of the families … those left behind with a gaping hole in their heart from the loss of a loved one, and those having to adjust to the “affected” surviving soldiers? This is the heart-breaking story of two families at the convergence of all of the above.

With the Civil War ending, Wade (James Badge Dale, “The Pacific”) returns home in search of “peace”. He shows up at the house of his brother-in-law Seamus (Ethan Embrey) and is greeted with open arms by his niece Abigail (Maika Monroe, It Follows) and nephew Samuel (Owen Teague), who clearly worship him as their favorite Uncle.

Though it’s not a Hatfield and McCoys extreme, it doesn’t take long for Wade to figure out the awkward and mostly silent unbalanced relationship between Seamus’ family and the McCluskey neighbors. Randolph McCluskey (William Forsythe) is a bitter man who lost a son in the war, has an unresponsive wife (Beth Broderick) due to that loss, and two sons: Dillard (Ryan O’Nan) who is a bit slow-witted, and Marcus (Rhys Wakefield) who is far too sensitive to be accepted by his crusty old father.

Wade’s best intentions of protecting his family turn a barely tolerable arrangement into an all-out war. On top of that, we get a bit of Romeo and Juliet to go along with Wade’s slow-drip meltdown as he is simply unable to handle what the war has made him. The connection between Abigail and Marcus is exciting to watch, though we all recognize a romance facing a heavily stacked deck. Wakefield was previously seen in The Purge, and Ms. Monroe was stunning in It Follows. Both are young actors to keep an eye on.

It’s almost unbelievable to accept that this is the first feature film from director Kane Senes and his co-writer John Chriss. There is so much going on here with multiple layers of conflict and personalities … plus the movie is beautifully shot with an air of artistic flair that lightens a mood when necessary, or makes an analogy of nature and man either through plants, critters or the sky. Religious overtures play a role, and it’s fascinating to watch the various interactions … each more complex than the previous, culminating with Wade and Seamus who seemingly couldn’t be more different.

The film explores the comparison of bravery versus cowardice and it challenges our beliefs. There is also a theme of survival – just what makes a life worth living? The acting here is something to behold. All eight are exceptional and contribute to the film’s ultra-serious approach, broken by brief moments of pure joy. With a terrific and complex story, stellar acting, and a talented director, this is one that serious film goers should seek out and embrace.

NOWITZKI: THE PERFECT SHOT (documentary)

nowitzki Greetings again from the darkness. Dallas loves Dirk. The reasons why become obvious during this biopic that takes us from Dirk’s youth basketball league in Germany through his NBA Finals, while including significantly more information on his family and personal life than we have previously seen. Interviews come courtesy of such well known faces as Kobe Bryant, Don Nelson, Michael Finley, Mark Cuban, Yao Ming, Jason Kidd and former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Contrary to many sports documentaries, this is no shrine to its subject. Of course, we can’t help but be charmed by the “great guy” superstar, but it’s through his life challenges that we come to truly respect Dirk as a man. Director Sebastian Denhardt is one of the most prolific documentarians and filmmakers in Germany, but this look at Germany’s most popular and successful athlete is his best and most accessible work to date.

The most interesting segments involve Dirk’s long time personal coach Holger Geschwindner, plus insight from Dirk’s father, mother, sister, and childhood friend. It’s during these times that we realize Dirk’s “posse” is made of the people who he has always trusted – family and friends. The only two newcomers to his group of “insiders” are Lisa Tyner and Dirk’s wife Jessica. Ms. Tyner is the Mavericks staffer who took Dirk under her wing when he was a youngster transitioning to life in the United States.

While the film drills home the importance of Dirk’s work ethic and commitment to excellence, the most entertaining moments include: Dirk’s first meeting with Steve Nash, Dirk as a stick figure on Holger’s software, Dirk in a tennis skirt (for Halloween), Dirk dominating on the court as a teenager, Dirk’s mother discussing his move to the U.S., and best of all, Dirk stretching the truth a bit while meeting with former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt … and then admitting it!

These days, disappointment seems to be the most common reaction when the curtain gets pulled back on celebrities and heroes. It’s refreshing to look into the life and see that the biggest scandals were when Dirk was the one cheated by a former girlfriend, and he stood by in full support of a friend going through an investigation for tax evasion. Dirk shows he is as impressive as a human being as he is a basketball player. What he definitely isn’t? A singer … we re-live his “We are the Champions” rendition from the parade. Dirk rocks!

DARE TO DRUM (documentary)

dare to drum Greetings again from the darkness. D’Drum. Stewart Copeland. Gamelan. Most viewers might be familiar with one of these – Stewart Copeland is the world famous Rock drummer and co-founder (with Sting) of The Police. D’Drum is a Dallas area based ensemble of percussionists who have been playing together for two decades. Gamelan is the traditional percussion based music so important to Java and Bali in Indonesia.

If you are curious how these three pieces might fit together, let’s make it more challenging and unlikely by blending in world class conductor Maestro Jaap Van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Yes, this really happened and the result was a show-stopping 2011 performance of “Gamelan D’Drum”, a symphony composed by Copeland, conducted by the Maestro, and performed by the D’Drum fellows and the musicians of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

John Bryant is one of the drumming members of D’Drum, and in very impressive fashion, he also directed, edited and produced the film. He perfectly captures the process of these passionate musicians (insert drummer joke here) and their never-ending quest for new percussion instruments, no matter the part of the world. Their multi-cultural approach led to a stage filled with dozens of instruments, including those custom-made for the performance.

Inspirational seems to fall short in describing what unfolds on screen. Mr. Copeland’s enthusiasm towards the project was obvious in the post-screening Q&A as he energetically answered any question even remotely directed his way. See, he is what one would call a courageous musician – one not intimidated by the traditions of the world of symphonies and orchestras. He understands that the foundation of art is creating something new, and he brilliantly manages this without losing the audience.

While Copeland’s creativity and D’Drums eagerness are commendable and a joy to watch, none of this happens without the (risky) support of Maestro Jaap Van Zweden. So many conductors are tied to the traditions, and hesitant at best, to take risks with music that has been played the same basic way for sometimes hundreds of years. Instead, his positive attitude and willingness to push boundaries delivered one of the most exciting evenings ever for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra … not to mention Stewart Copeland and the members of D’Drum.  Should you have the opportunity to see this one, take it. And afterwards … “Do it again, man”!

 

 

 


PARKLAND (2013)

October 15, 2013

parkland1 Greetings again from the darkness. Fifty years of investigation and research have spawned an endless number of theories about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened, that tragic day in 1963. President John F Kennedy and his lovely wife Jacqueline had captured the hearts of many Americans, and on a trip to Ft Worth and then Dallas, the streets were lined with eager citizens who just wanted to catch a glimpse … hoping some of that Camelot magic would rub off. Instead, a city and a country, went spinning off into feelings of anger and devastation. Rather than show us what we already know, this is a peek at a few individuals impacted in ways you might not have previously thought about.

Vincent Bugliosi made a name for himself as the prosecutor in the Charles Manson Family murder case, and then penning the corresponding book “Helter Skelter” (subsequently made into a movie). Parkland (the name of the Dallas hospital where Kennedy was taken after the shooting) is based on Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy”.

parkland4 The main stories we follow are that of Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale), their mother Margueritte (Jacki Weaver), Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), local FBI Agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston), and the emergency room doctors and nurses who treated JFK and Oswald (Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, Marcia Gay Harden). You might think that’s too many stories for a single movie, and you are probably correct. However, it’s fascinating to see the frenetic pace and immediate fallout of just how these people were impacted. Sure, we would like more details and backstory, but that’s not the approach this film takes. It just provides a taste of the gut-wrenching decisions Mr. Zapruder has to make while grieving for his beloved President; and the shock of Oswald’s brother as reality hits; the jaw-dropping delusions of Oswald’s mother; the absolute frustration of the CIA and FBI agents knowing their historic failures will be their legacy; and the disparate emotions that enter the operating room with Kennedy and Oswald.

parkland5 The film doesn’t take any stance on the grassy knoll, CIA involvement, LBJ involvement, or number of shooters. This is not a crime solving story or research into conspiracy theories. No, this is a look at real people in extraordinary situations that no amount of preparation can pacify. There are so many little details revealed … one of the most powerful occurring at the Lee Harvey Oswald funeral, and another as the JFK casket is loaded onto Air Force One just prior to LBJ taking the oath. So many little things you have probably never before considered.

parkland6 If you were alive at the time of the assassination, you understand the impact. If you have read any of the stacks of books written about that day, you understand what happened and the messy investigation that followed. Bugliosi and director Peter Landesman effectively mix news reels from the day with dramatizations of the fallout, and the actors do a tremendous job of showing just how personally this affected those at the time. A different perspective brings with it interesting discussion … and a big thanks if your mother is nothing like Oswald’s!

**NOTE: Since I am a Dallas resident, I was relieved to see the film didn’t dwell on the hatred directed at the city following the shooting

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are interested in the stress and emotion experienced by so many after JFK was assassinated.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for another conspiracy theory in the mold of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgPjt_BRLvY


THE LONE RANGER (2013)

July 6, 2013

lone ranger Greetings again from the darkness. The Western genre has always appealed to me. I love the clear division between good and bad. Heroes and Villains face-off and the good guys usually win, thereby protecting those too weak to protect themselves. TV had an impressive string of popular westerns: “The Rifleman”, “Maverick”, “The Big Valley”, “Rawhide”, “Bonanza”, and “Gunsmoke” (1955-75).

One of the most popular got it’s start on the radio in 1933: “The Lone Ranger“. When it hit TV in 1949, the great Clayton Moore donned the mask and badge, accompanied by Jay Silverheels as Tonto. Though they filmed a couple of movies, they were best known on the small screen. Then in 1981,  The Legend of the Lone Ranger was released in theatres. It was directed by William Fraker and starred Klinton Spilsbury. If you have never seen it … Mr. Fraker never directed another movie and Mr. Spilsbury never acted again. Enough said.

lone ranger2 Thirty-three years later, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski and mega-star Johnny Depp have teamed up for a re-imagined Tonto and the Lone Ranger story. Yes, that is the proper order since this is mostly the story of Tonto, told by Tonto, with the camera focused on Tonto (Depp). There is very little respect for the roots of the story, and that’s probably because it would not be politically correct these days to have a subservient Comanche taking orders from a masked white man.

We first meet an aging Tonto as the “Noble Savage” in a 1933 Old West traveling museum. This approach reminds me of the far superior Little Big Man featuring Dustin Hoffman. Tonto proceeds to tell a young boy his version of history. We are never really sure if this is a tall tale or just a commentary on how our memory recalls events solely from our own perspective. Tonto’s character is given a full backstory, but John Reid, the square and square-jawed prosecutor who Tonto mentors into becoming the lone ranger4Lone Ranger (played by Armie Hammer) is presented as a naive buffoon. Reid’s courageous brother Dan is played by James Badge Dale, and the bad guys are played by Tom Wilkinson (Cole, the train baron), and William Fichtner (Butch Cavendish, the notorious outlaw who wiped out the Rangers).

It seems apparent that Verbinski was striving to create the next Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The template is familiar … lots of action and wise-cracking, replete with the newest caricature in the Johnny Depp repertoire. Though Depp has many critics, I am not one. To me, he is a modern day Red Skelton, and I admire the nuances of his Captain Jack Sparrow, Wily Wonka, Mad Hatter, and of course, Edward Scissorhands. Tonto is another feather in his cap (so to speak) and his decision to base the look on Kirby Sattler’s painting “I Am Crow” adds a stark look along with fodder for comedy.  Depp performs an impressive stunt featuring a tall ladder and two trains … it plays like a tribute to the great Buster Keaton.

lone ranger3 Many film critics have been bashing the production – some even before the film’s release. In this day of information overload, we all are aware of the battle between the filmmakers and the studio. The final product does in fact wear the scars of entirely too many writers and budget mismanagement and limitations that come with the Disney brand. What should have been a perfect fit (ultimate good guy Lone Ranger) turned into a jumbled mess at times. The 2 1/2 hour movie easily could have been a full hour shorter. Maybe building two new locomotives worked great for realism, but was tough on the budget. With so few young movie-goers even aware of the Lone Ranger, creative freedom to re-imagine the character makes sense, but making him a klutzy sidekick probably doesn’t. So what we get are pre-release headlines telling us the film is a bomb. I find that unfair. It certainly appeared that most of the audience I was part of enjoyed the movie, though there were cracks about how long it was.

There are some very impressive segments within the film and having Rossini’s William Tell Overture playing over the heart-pounding climax adds a level of fun that most movies don’t have. The use of Monument Valley in Utah put me in the mood for a John Ford movie marathon.  So while I fully agree that the movie is much too long, the script should have been tightened, and more respect paid to the main character, it seems highly likely that the movie will be remembered much more fondly than film critics would have us believe … at least by those who give it a shot.

**NOTE: if you are unfamiliar with the legend, Britt Reid who became The Green Hornet, is the great nephew of John Reid (The Lone Ranger).

**NOTE: I totally missed the significance or tie-in of the blood-thirsty rabbits in this movie, though they did remind me of Monty Python’s Killer Rabbits.  If you “get” this, please explain to me.

**NOTE: Helena Bonham Carter.  ugh

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can ignore the critics and accept this as another blockbuster summer fun flick OR you want to see the latest addition to the Johnny Depp Hall of Oddity

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting the All-American hero as seen in the long ago TV series (this is really not his story)

Below are two videos.  The first is the 27 second opening to the TV series.  The second is one of the full trailers to the new movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Td4RHvyAFsM

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L5pbgKyWs4


WORLD WAR Z (2013)

June 24, 2013

wwz1 Greetings again from the darkness. Max Brooks’ hugely successful novel was put through the proverbial wringer on it’s road to the big screen. Numerous script re-writes, many scenes re-shot, a re-worked third act, an all new ending, and a 6 month delay in release date. The final product is something that fans of TV’s “The Walking Dead” will probably appreciate and many others will find it entertaining enough.

Brad Pitt gives an earnest effort as a former United Nations investigator who now enjoys his new role as house-husband. In fact, director Marc Foster (Quantum of Solace, Monster’s Ball) zaps us with the first zombie action just after Pitt serves up pancakes to his two daughters and wife Karin (Mireille Enos, “The Killing”). It turns out Pitt is more than just an expert at flapjacks. His expertise is needed in this global zombie crisis brought on by a wwz2virus …or bacteria, that started in India … or Israel … or Asia. See, those details don’t really matter because the infection has spread to every corner of the globe.

I actually enjoyed Pitt more in the “quiet” moments than in the big CGI action sequences. He is quite believable as a doting husband and father, less so as the world’s savior. Still, the issues with this movie are not on Mr. Pitt. Four writers (in addition to the novelist) rarely deliver a coherent script’ however, since it’s an apocalyptic zombie thriller, they almost get away with it! If you haven’t visited the zombie genre in a few decades, be prepared … these aren’t wwz3the sluggish zombies made famous by George Romero. Instead, these are blazingly fast and able to leap tall buildings, flying helicopters … and the great wall of Jerusalem. Yes, Jerusalem. In one of the more unusual movie features, this one plays like “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. Pitt globe trots more than James Bond or Jason Bourne.

For many, the zombie sequences and global apocalyptic theme will provide sufficient cinematic entertainment. For the rest of us, it’s fine, but will forgotten as quickly as I am Legend. (06/24/13 UPDATE: the very talented and influential writer Richard Matheson passed away yesterday.  Among his work was the novel I AM LEGEND, which was the basis for the Will Smith movie that I referenced in my ending wisecrack.  I don’t blame Mr. Matheson’s fine work for that lackluster film.  His death is a great loss.)

**NOTE: Israeli newcomer Daniella Kurtesz (age 23) has an interesting screen presence and I look forward to seeing more of her work

**NOTE: Matthew Fox has a blink and you’ll miss him scene as part of the rooftop helicopter rescue team. The original third act had him playing a bigger role.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the Zombie craze OR you never miss a chance to see a long-haired Brad Pitt

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are bothered more by muddled story-telling than the global threat of a rapidly spreading zombie virus.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Md6Dvxdr0AQ


IRON MAN 3 (2013)

May 5, 2013

iron man1 Greetings again from the darkness. My initial reaction upon seeing this opening day was that some fanboys are not going to be happy. Of course, this happens every time Hollywood makes changes to the original comic book material in hopes of attracting massive box office numbers. While I recognize many of the “flaws”, I found this to be an interesting and entertaining turn on the Tony Stark/Iron Man series.

Shane Black was brought in to direct and help write the script. Mr. Black is best known for his crackling buddy dialogue in movies like Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (also with Robert Downey Jr), but doesn’t have significant directorial experience (his most recent effort was KKBB 5 years ago). My belief has always been that what sets this franchise apart is Robert Downey Jr’s take on Tony Stark. A wiseiron man4-cracking billionaire playboy technology and mechanical genius searching for his true identity. Mr. Black re-focuses the story on Stark. In fact, he basically takes everything away and has him start over.

Regardless of the story, many line up for these movies to see the special effects and the bad guys. The special effects are everywhere … and loud … and massive. The trailer shows a clip of Stark’s Malibu mansion being destroyed, but the entire segment is quite impressive. The number of Iron Man suits seems unlimited at times and the big finale gave me the same feeling of a 4th of July fireworks display when it ends with so many clumps of fireworks being fired at once, that the impact is dulled. As for the bad guys, The Mandarin is one of the most fierce opponents faced by Iron Man in the comics. His portrayal here by Ben Kingsley is a blast to iron man2watch, but will undoubtedly upset the true fanboys. Guy Pearce plays Aldrich Killian, a demented mastermind, once snubbed by Stark – in a scene we witness in flashback.

My preference here is to focus on the fun elements since that’s clearly what Marvel and Black are shooting for. Jon Favreau directed the first two entries in the franchise and here takes on a slightly bigger acting role as head of security for the Stark corporation … and he provides some comic relief. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) finally gets to do more than roll her eyes, but she still has her damsel in distress moments. Don Cheadle returns as Col. Rhodes … or War Machine … now re-branded as Iron Patriot, but mostly he is just waiting for his own movie. Rebecca Hall has some screen time as a smart woman who is not so wise in her choosing of partners. No comment. Ty Simpkins plays Harley, a country boy who helps Stark in his time of need. James Badge Dale, Miguel Ferrer, William Sadler, and Dale Dickey all have strong moments, but therein lies what may be the film’s biggest weakness.

iron man3 It’s an incredibly impressive film to watch … giant visuals, really good actors and quick, witty dialogue. But there seems to be an overload of each of these things. Guy Pearce’s character is woefully underdeveloped. I so wanted more of his backstory and motivation. Same with Harley, the boy. Much could have been done with that. Miguel Ferrer, always a worthy opponent, must have had his best scenes left in editing. The scene with Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle and Robert Downey Jr, may have been the best in the movie simply because we got a real peak at each of these character’s personality. That’s way more fun that another explosion!

The film pummels us with action, probably has too much Tony Stark and too little Iron Man for the fanboys, throws in a hard-to-swallow sub-plot regarding Anxiety issues for Stark (thanks to his Avengers escapades), and underutilizes Guy Pearce in what could have been a world class evil doer. Still, despite all of that, it’s fun to watch and Robert Downey Jr will always be Iron Man!

*NOTE: the expected Stan Lee cameo occurs during the Beauty Contest scene (he plays a judge)

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of the Iron Man franchise … it delivers what we want and what we expect

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting something wildly different from the first two Iron Man movies – the tweaks are minor and mostly effective

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV8H7kszXqo


FLIGHT (2012)

November 4, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. What is a hero? There have certainly been no shortage of super hero movies these past few years, but those are mostly comic book characters brought to life through the magic of Hollywood. Can a heroic act turn a flawed man into a hero? Should his flaws change how we treat him after the heroic act? All these are questions raised by the script from John Gatins. The easiest answer of all? If you are a movie producer looking to cast a flawed hero … the obvious choice is Denzel Washington.

Director Robert Zemekis returns to live-action after more than a decade of experimenting with animation. Of course, Zemekis is firmly entrenched in Hollywood lore thanks to his Back to the Future trilogy, as well as Forrest Gump (for which he won an Oscar). This is quite dark material for Zemekis and he handles it very well. The trailer tells us what we need to know about the premise. Denzel plays a pilot who, under extreme circumstances, “inverts” the commercial jet he is flying so it can be crash-landed in an open field. Yes, invert means to fly the plane upside down. If you are queasy about flying, this is one to avoid. And don’t count on this being the in-flight movie on your next business trip.

The first 30 minutes of this movie are as strong as any seen on screen this year. We quickly get a sense of Whip Whitaker the flawed man, and then we see the remarkable Captain Whip Whitaker and his actions during an incredibly well filmed crash sequence. Unfortunately, I found the second half of the film played like a heavy-handed advertisement for AA (not American Airlines). Whitaker is exposed for his absurdly high blood alcohol level and existence of cocaine … so clearly presented in the film’s opening. Over the years, many films have tackled addiction: Leaving Las Vegas, Clean and Sober, When a Man Loves a Woman. Rarely have we seen the expert talent of deception and lying that Capt Whitaker displays.

There is little doubt that Denzel’s performance will warrant Oscar consideration … and it should. The film depends on an actor skilled enough to reach the depths necessary for us to believe this guy, despite his cocky pilot strut and unmatched flying skills, is little more than a mentally weak addict.  This is no Sully.  In fact, Denzel’s chubby, bloated Whitaker is impossible to like or respect as a man.

 There are a couple of outstanding supporting performances here: John Goodman as Harling Mays, a colorful and energetic, free-wheeling dealer who works miracles with Whitaker when he appears too gone to function; and Kelly Reilly (Mary Watson from the “Sherlock Holmes” movies) as fellow addict Nicole, who connects with Whip and tries to help him. We also get solid work from Don Cheedle, Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, Peter Geraty and Melissa Leo. There is also an odd scene featuring James Badge Dale as a cancer patient/philosopher.

The Alan Silvestri score is effective, as is the soundtrack featuring the somewhat obvious songs from Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones and Cowboy Junkies. The issues with the script are minor, though the inconsistencies with Whitaker’s “limp” were bothersome.  This is one to recommend in spite of the Bruce Greenwood factor. Every frequent movie goer has their acting nemesis and Greenwood’s presence usually indicates a disappointing movie for me … not the case here.

**Note: couldn’t help but chuckle at one of the VHS tapes stacked by Whitaker’s TV … Top Gun

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can handle a ferociously realistic plane crash sequence OR you want to see one of Denzel Washington’s best ever performances

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: 2 hours of severe alcoholism is not the kind of entertainment you desire OR your fear of flying needs no ammunition

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhUrWRV1cxs