Sully

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Release: Friday, September 9, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Todd Komarnicki

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

The Miracle on the Hudson is a perfect fit for good ole Clint Eastwood’s fascination with heroism and how Americans celebrate heroes. The story of how a commercial airline pilot managed to improvise an emergency water landing in the Hudson River mere minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009 without sacrificing any lives in the process seemed, even at that time, primed for the big screen treatment. It was an event too unique to be left alone.

Sully turns out to be the movie anticipated. It’s confidently acted, noble in its pursuit of the truth, and just somber enough in its paralleling of this particular incident with the horrors that occurred on September 11, 2001. Tom Hanks, playing Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, once again proves he’s one of the best in the business when it comes to portraying decent, upstanding individuals with reputations to defend. The profile contrasts how his decision to land on an icy river instead of return to the airport was perceived by the public, who viewed the act as courageous and necessary, while internal investigations within the NTSB and the FAA sought out all the little details that could prove the difference between human error and legitimate equipment failure.

The film feels natural and self-contained, representing one of Eastwood‘s most focused and disciplined efforts in recent years. Very little goes to waste, be they measured doses of world-building — the mundanity of air travel from the perspectives of crew and passengers alike — or supporting roles fostering an atmosphere of relief and gratitude in the aftermath. Alongside Sully there is First Officer Jeff Skiles (a mustachioed Aaron Eckhart) who provides his unwavering support throughout. He doesn’t have nearly as much to do as his costar but Eckhart is nonetheless effective, as is embattled wife Lorraine Sullenberger (Laura Linney) who can only contact her husband through brief telephone calls amidst media chaos threatening to consume their private lives.

Eastwood’s dramatization of the crash itself is wisely restrained, with moments of peril scattered throughout a narrative that is more concerned with what happens next, specifically how the Captain is supposed to relay what actually happened to those who were not there in the cockpit. It’s a tale of almost two movies — that which occurs on the flight itself, which is staged extremely realistically (almost to a fault for nervous flyers I’m sure), and that which occurs on the ground in the investigation process. Much of Sully broods in a strange psychological state somewhere between reality and surreality, with Sullenberger unable to rid himself of vivid images of what could have happened while grappling with the notion of his instant celebrity. Those flashes of a nightmarish scenario here represent the more striking and unsettling visual parallels to 9/11. It tends to raise the hair on your arms.

In a film that prioritizes achievement over practicality, it’s perhaps not surprising that members of the NTSB — here represented by Mike O’Malley (Nickelodeon’s Global Guts, anyone?) as Charles Porter, Jamey Sheridan as Ben Edwards and Anna Gunn as Elizabeth Davis — are all fictional creations inserted for the purpose of having some sort of antagonistic presence. (Flocks of birds, apparently, only serve as villains when directed by Alfred Hitchcock.) Why Eastwood needed to vilify one group while heralding another is beyond me, and it is a major issue in a film that otherwise dedicates itself wholeheartedly to realism.

Barring Hollywood’s never ending desire to conflate actual, real-world drama with that which can be synthetically created for the sake of perpetuating traditional storytelling models, Sully manifests as a heartfelt “thank you” to an individual who will probably forever claim that all he did was his job.

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Recommendation: I have this feeling actual pilots or aspiring pilots will get a bigger kick out of the stresses endured by this flight crew. Lessons learned by the layperson: 1) being heralded a hero doesn’t always feel as such; 2) the NTSB, despite what Eastwood portrays them as for three-quarters of his film, isn’t really comprised of bloodthirsty, vindictive asses (see the enormously contrived ending scene); 3) New Yorkers are some damn resilient people. If there’s any real lesson to be taken away from Sully, it’s perhaps best summarized by one of the captain’s final reflections: he didn’t save all these people based on his actions alone. It was a real team effort, from the immediate response of Port Authority and NYPD officials, to the actions taken at Air Traffic Control, to the calmness of his entire flight crew and the bravery of the passengers themselves. A true crowd-pleaser. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “This is the Captain. Brace for impact.”  

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

All is Lost

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Release: Friday, October 18, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Somewhere along the way here, I swear Robert Redford was going to bump into the guys of the Andrea Gale and he’d have to hop aboard Clooney’s doomed ship in the middle of his perfect storm; then later when he comes within feet of a massive cargo ship, it looked like Captain Rich Phillips was possibly going to be the 70-something-year-old sailor’s savior.

Alas, neither actually turned out to be the case, and Redford — credited in this film simply as ‘Our Man’ — must continue to find a way to hold on, and simply wait. Wait to live. Wait to die. Wait for a resolution, that would never come. (Yes — yes that is indeed a third stranded-at-sea-themed movie reference. . . . .but what is it??)

All is Lost is a strange film. Neither a visionary achievement as I’ve seen it touted as, nor anywhere close to being boring either, this is a film trapped in Purgatory; destined forever to serve up heaping helpings of indifference to those who are seeking character development — who wouldn’t, in a movie about someone trying to survive the elements?

If there’s one element of this production that may need orienting, it’s that Redford does indeed turn in a performance to be reckoned with come the awards ceremony. Saddled with as few as perhaps five lines of dialogue throughout the course of an hour and forty-five minutes, his sailor-dude-guy is tasked with resorting to his most primitive of survival modes, a challenge Redford was apparently up for. Emoting with virtually just his facial expressions, the actor is likewise forced to turn in an economical performance, a feat that does pay off come time to sink or swim.

However, as good as Redford is at portraying Our Man as a supremely efficient, calm individual, even in the face of this kind of adversity, there’s absolutely no entry point for the audience as far as finding out who exactly he is as a human being is concerned. We will come to quickly understand how experienced of a sailor he is. But why is he out here? Where is he going. . or at least was trying to get to? If he passes away on the ocean, who will he be survived by? The drama surrounding Our Man is. . .e-hem. . .watered down by the fact that we will get no such resolution.

That’s incredibly frustrating, really, when considering the ride otherwise is quite compelling. In many ways, All is Lost provides an alternative route through the terror and isolation revealed in Alfonso Cuarón’s outer space thriller just a month or so ago. Whereas Gravity thrust us into the incoherent depths of a world beyond our atmosphere, All is Lost is intent on selling the same kind of experience safely inside of it. The oceans are some seriously large chunks of real estate, and God help you if ever you’re so lucky as to come crashing into a randomly floating cargo container in the middle of the night.

Such is the plight of Our Man, who immediately goes about fixing the ship’s damaged hull and rigging up a system to bail out the water from the cabin. After several unsuccessful attempts at sending out S.O.S. calls to the Coast Guard, he comes to the realization that all electronics have been conveniently rendered useless. Surely it can’t seem to get much worse than that, right? Unfortunately it does, and on the following evening a strong thunderstorm threatens to wipe him out completely. He manages to see through the night, but is forced to board his emergency raft after taking on enough water to sink the Virginia Jean.

The cost of not giving this man a character, a reason for being, is constantly exposed by the lack of any other flaws in the film. Such frustration is compounded by the film’s perfect pacing. There’s this obvious transitional point when Our Man abandons his yacht and enters the raft, yet most of the scenes that make up these two “halves” pass by so breezily that the ending to the film comes almost as a shock.

All is Lost can’t help but feel robbed of any meaning when the film’s sole cast member (credited or otherwise) has spent the entire time in anonymity. We gather his survival skills are sharp — most of us likely wouldn’t make it past day three under these circumstances. He makes it to number eight. Yet, if the grand take-away here is to show how truly limited our species is when it comes to habitat — clearly, we cannot survive out at sea — I feel like there are better films already reaching for this. I’m not sure this is a fair evaluation, but it’s what I have been able to surmise with such limited information.

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3-0Recommendation: Robert Redford fans are likely to be impressed (again), since he commands the screen for the entire time. But with the only other character on display being his boat, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of competition. See it for his ability to convey a good range of emotions in relative silence, see it for the scenery (the cinematography is gorgeous), but do not go to this movie searching for meaning. I’m quite sure there’s none to be had.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Captain Phillips

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Release: Friday, October 11, 2013

[RPX Theater]

“Oh, Captain my Captain. . .!”

Expecting Tom Hanks’ name to circulate around when it comes time to talking Best Actor is about as safe a bet as expecting more movies to be made for the rest of forever. Can’t say for sure, buuuut I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen.

And so, he’ll all but confirm that outrageous theory of mine as he takes on the titular role in Paul Greengrass’ new biopic Captain Phillips, a particularly tense rendering of the experiences of the real-life cargo captain and his written accounts.

His book, A Captain’s Duty, details the drama that unfolded off the coast of Somalia in 2009, when a freight ship carrying food and other relief supplies was hijacked by four Somalian fishermen. The siege was violent and intense, and culminated in the skipper being held hostage for several days as the hijackers escaped the ship in a rescue vessel, bound for the African shores. This was the first successful act of piracy since the early 19th century. I haven’t read the book myself but considering the nature of the events and the authenticity and emotion that first-hand account narratives tend to offer up, I’m sure it’s a compelling read, and one I cannot wait to get my hands on. Especially now.

I can’t vouch for its faithfulness to the source material, but Greengrass’ film is simply magnificent, and a more-than-competent stand-alone piece of work. He marries the formula of a biopic to an unusually intelligent script (written by Billy Ray) that grounds all characters in a reality often lacking in films similar to it. (Sorry Sam Jackson, The Negotiator may have more “motherf**ker”s in it, but this film is just so much more engaging.) The director’s latest also benefits from a performance from Hanks that may be his most inspiring yet. Those who appreciated his level-headedness as astronaut Jim Lovell haven’t seen anything yet. And his Chuck Noland in Cast Away now just seems to be practice. The New England-born Rich Phillips is truly a remarkable human being, and Hanks does the man justice, as only an actor of his caliber can.

The film begins with a suspiciously insouciant opening scene in which Rich and his wife, Andrea (a very limited Catherine Keener) are headed to the airport for his upcoming assignment off the coast of Africa. Despite its initial immateriality, there’s plenty of exposition to be had here and Hanks’ character instantly is painted as a doting, concerned parent who’s just having to do his job.

Phillips seems to be quite the meticulous and cautious man, albeit a thoroughly disciplined and capable leader, whose experience on the water has always served him well. His latest route will take him and a crew of twenty around the horn of Africa, to dock in Mombasa, Kenya with a massive shipment of food and other relief supplies. However, they soon find themselves in hostile waters off the coast of Somalia and become the latest target of a group of vicious and desperate fishermen/hijackers.

The degree to which Hanks elevates the film cannot be overstated, yet the rest of the cast deserves equal attention. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi who plays Muse, one of the hijackers, is mesmerizing, bringing a level of despair and aggressiveness to a character that is acting completely out of necessity, motivated by desperation.

Along with him, the other hijackers represent varying states of fraying sanity as they impose their will upon the crew of the Maersk-Alabama. The advantage we are given as the audience is that we are introduced to these folks in their towns; we watch them gather frantically in the hopes of scoring another payday, fighting for the right to be the next person to get to hijack a ship.

Indeed, one of the achievements of Captain Phillips is providing many perspectives, all the while Greengrass remains neutral with his camera. Points of view shift with increasing frequency between the rapidly high-profile hostage, the pirates and the numerous Navy officials who work tirelessly to solve the situation peacefully. The moment in which the ship falls under control of the pirates is so much more compelling as we see both walks of life converging in one chaotic, unbearably tense scene. Early on in the film, we are treated to a moment that may rival the stress levels of anything demonstrated in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

Greengrass also really knows how to wrap up his film. The ending is one of the most emotional and difficult things to watch in the entire two-plus-hour hold up. I won’t call it a predictable film, but at the same time, it can’t really end in any way other than how one will probably suspect from the very beginning. The takeaway here will be the way in which Hanks sells the aftermath of his rescue; the emotional and physical toll that he suffers from is remarkable, and should leave you in a state of exhaustion when its all said and done.

Sharp character writing and a well-developed story, one that withstands the toughest of scrutiny, propel Captain Phillips into the league of 2013’s finest offerings. Not only is it a well-articulated recounting of the hellish experiences of Rich Phillips in the days following his ship’s hostile take-over, but there are larger brushstrokes at work as well.

Time and again the ever-diplomatic captain is apt to question the motives of his captors. It’s a 36 hour boat ride from where his Maersk-Alabama sits dead in the water and to the Somalian coast, where the pirates are attempting to reach. All Captain Phillips can do to pass some time in incredible discomfort is chat up his captors, at one point suggesting that “Surely there’s more you can do than fishing and kidnapping people. . . ,” to which Muse has only one response: “Maybe in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

Ultimately, this movie comes down to an acting battle between Abdi and Hanks — a competition to see whose spirit will crack first, and when it does, what will happen next? A surprisingly complex morality tale, Cap’n also demands strong willpower from its viewers — its long, somewhat limited in terms of its scenery, and emotionally draining. That said, it’s a voyage you’ll completely regret not embarking on, especially on the big screen.

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4-5Recommendation: I can’t believe I am doing this yet again, but Captain Phillips makes a strong bid for one of my favorite movies of this year. (October and the tail-end of September seems to have been a sweet spot this year.) I HIGHLY suggest as many people as possible get to the theater to experience the latest Tom Hanks masterpiece. The setting isn’t quite as novel as Gravity‘s, but its just as intense, if not more so. I could not get enough of the adrenaline rush this film provides.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 134 mins.

Quoted: “Look at me. I am the captain now.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com