7500 (2020)

June 18, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The first airplane hijacking movie I remember seeing was AIRPORT (1970, with Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin). Since then, it’s been a recurring, relatively common cinematic topic blending our natural fears (flying and terrorism) with our love and admiration of heroic people, as seen in such films as EXECUTIVE DECISION (1996) and AIR FORCE ONE (1997).  Writer-Director Patrick Vollrath (first feature length film, Oscar nominated for his excellent 2015 Live Action Short EVERYTHING WILL BE OK/ Alles Wird Gut) and co-w Sanad Halibasic use some of the familiar tropes we’ve come to expect, but do so with a unique twist … the camera never leaves the cockpit (at least until the very end).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tobias Ellis, the co-pilot to Captain Michael Lutzman (Carlo Kitzlinger) on this scheduled short flight from Berlin to Paris. Tobias is an American based in Berlin, living with his Turkish girlfriend Gokce (Aylin Tezel) and their young son. Gokce is also a flight attendant on the flight, and the two have attempted to keep their relationship a secret from their co-workers and employer.

The film opens with a quote usually attributed to Gandhi, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” We then get a couple minutes of Berlin Airport security footage as passengers and their carry-ons proceed through security lines. We hear no dialogue or sound. The first actual scene puts us inside the cockpit as the flight crew arrives.

Not long after a smooth takeoff, the terrorists rush the cockpit when the flight attendant is delivering water to the pilots. A fight ensues resulting in injuries, including to both pilots. The crisis quickly escalates as Tobias has to take over flying the plane, while dealing with the pressure of a life-altering dilemma: does he follow protocol and keep the door shut, or does he hopefully save passenger lives by opening the door? The tension mounts as Tobias (and us) views the actions of the terrorist through the small cockpit monitor.

The film’s title is derived from the pilot’s Squawk code of 7500, which notifies the Air Traffic Controller of a hijacking-in-progress. As we learn, these aren’t the usual hijackers. These are extremists who are “avenging the deaths of Muslims.” These terrorists prove they aren’t afraid to kill, and proclaim they are “not afraid to die.” Well, all except one of them. Nineteen year old Vedat (Omid Memar) is the terrorists’ translator, and he’s left frantically trying to make the best of a bad situation, despite no real plan. His clouded-thinking exacerbates the situation as he tries to deal with the police negotiator.

What gives the film appeal is the ‘camera in the cockpit’ trick and the tension of the moment. The space is cramped and claustrophobic. Showing the crew going through the pre-flight checks allows us to get our bearings in an unfamiliar setting. To this non-pilot, the sequence delivers a very authentic look and feel. Spending the entire time in a confined space recalls such films as BURIED (2010), LOCKE (2013), and Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT (1944). Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries most of the film with his performance, as he’s rarely off camera. His temperament during chaos is fun to watch, but the final act is just a bit overwrought, and some of the good from the first two acts unravels a bit. Still, the close-quarters of a cockpit makes a unique viewing experience, and one that has us asking how we would react in this situation.

Available on Prime Video June 18, 2020

watch the trailer:

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS: Live Action and Animated (2015)

February 14, 2016

Greetings again from the darkness. Oscar night is rapidly approaching, which means my annual pilgrimage to see the Oscar nominated Short Film Showcase has taken place. It’s always one of my favorite movie events of the year, and if you’ve never experienced it, I highly recommend you give it a try. You are guaranteed 10 high quality short films from around the globe, and they usually throw in a few more “commended” ones to enhance your time at the theatre. Here is my recap of this year’s nominations:

LIVE ACTION (alphabetical order)

AVE MARIA (Palestine, France, Germany) – In a year when the other four nominees are pretty serious in tone, this jocular, slightly satirical jab at religious extremism from filmmaker Basil Khalil is quite stuttererwelcome. Set in the West Bank, Palestine, a quarrelsome Jewish family literally crashes into the sanctity of 5 cloistered nuns.

DAY ONE (USA) – set within the war in Afghanistan, director Henry Hughes’ film depicts the first day in the field for a rookie translator as she accompanies a squad in their capture of a suspected bomber. When the bomber’s wife is discovered to be pregnant, things take a wicked turn and spontaneous decisions must be made that rattle the religious, cultural and moral state of those involved.

EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY (Alles Wird Gut, Germany Austria) – I reviewed this one earlier in the year, and director Patrick Volrath’s film is just as gut-wrenching the second time. A desperate German father attempts to carry out an ill-conceived plan that will thwart his ex-wife’s attempts to prevent him from spending time with his young daughter. It’s well acted and emotional.

SHOK (Kosova, UK) – a bicycle stranded in the road brings back a flood of childhood memories from the Kosovo War for an adult man. Based on true events, this one from director Jamie Donoughue is a gut punch and reminder that nothing is as strong as the bond between friends.

STUTTERER (UK, Ireland) – my personal favorite of the Live Action nominees, this one will have you questioning how you view “disabilities” and your quick trigger on assumptions. Director Benjamin Cleary also provides insight into how insecurities play a role in the motives and actions of people.


ANIMATION (alphabetical order)

BEAR STORY (Historia de un Oso, Chile) – Director Gabriel Osorio Vargas offers up a very intricate and meticulous story of a former circus bear who tells his heart-breaking life story through a fascinating mechanical diorama. Along with the Russian entry, this is one of my two favorites in the category.

PROLOGUE (UK) – a beautifully drawn depiction of a brutal two-on-two battle between Spartan and bear storyAthenian soldiers from more than 2000 years ago. Director Richard Williams provides a taste of the violence and intimacy in hand to hand combat, and also the fallout from war regardless of the era.

SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM (USA) – Surely the most widely viewed of all nominees, as this Pixar production played before every showing of Pixar’s feature The Good Dinosaur. Director Sanjay Patel tells a semi-autobiographical tale of father, son and religion … complete with a real photo at the end.

WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS (Russia) – The power of friendship and human bonding is on display as two cosmonauts train together for a trip into space. Director Konstantin Bronzit offers a no-holds-barred look at grief and the lack of understanding by others. The right stuff from a Russian perspective looks pretty similar to ours.

WORLD OF TOMORROW (USA) – I first saw this gem from director Don Hertzfeldt at the Dallas International Film Society, and the simple animation can’t mask the complexity of the cautionary tale. Technology and our desire for immortality may not provide the idyllic future we imagine. This one is both frightening and funny.

EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY (Alles Wird Gut, short, Germany 2015)

December 22, 2015

everything will be okay Greetings again from the darkness. Dramatic short films are challenged with generating an ultra-quick connection with viewers. German director Patrick Vollrath begins the film by showing a man anxiously pacing and buzzing the gate bell outside a suburban home. Our instincts that tell us he must be in some kind of trouble fade a bit when an 8 year old girl runs into his arms exclaiming “Daddy!”

Lea (newcomer Julia Pointer) clearly loves her father, and we quickly figure out this must be the scheduled every other weekend visit resulting from a recent divorce. Lea’s excitement is palpable as they stop off at a toy store where her dad tells her she can pick out any two items she wants. A simple gesture that’s probably repeated thousands of times each weekend, re-ignites the instincts we felt in the opening scene. Some “little” hints confirm our suspicion as the two hurriedly rush to an appointment at a government office and then on to the airport.

Simon Schwarz plays Michael Baumgartner, the dad who transitions from anxious to warm/loving to purely desperate. His performance, and that of young Ms. Pointer, are realistic and so spot on that we as viewers are sympathetic to both. It’s an exceptionally tense and dramatic half-hour reminding us that in a broken family, it’s rarely the case that “everything will be okay”, and sometimes things escalate into a literal tug-of-war that is heart-breaking. This is expert work from a filmmaker that understands the magic of short films, and it’s little wonder the film has been so well received at AFI, Cannes and numerous other festivals.

watch the trailer: