Flight - Featured

This Week in DVD: 2/5/13

Flight (Robert Zemeckis, 2012) – Director Robert Zemeckis’ (Back To The Future, Forrest Gump) long-overdue return to live action filmmaking after a decade of motion capture digital trickery was always going to be a hyped up movie event. That fact that he chose to deliver his most unabashedly dramatic and morally ambiguous film to date made it somewhat of a shock. Here’s a filmmaker who came up through the golden age of persona Hollywood movies in the 70s, but even then was more interested in big, loud entertainment. Now all these years later, he’s pulled together an intriguing drama that until the final awards-friendly coda admirably offers more questions than answers. Flight has the slick production values and ample star wattage of a major Hollywood vehicle and yet the heart of the film beats with the moral conundrums and ambiguity of an indie drama. Those two seemingly contradictory filmmaking impulses never quite mesh together perfectly in Zemeckis’ project, but it is a cut above the usual Hollywood awards season dramas, a respectable return for the director, and a project that boasts easily one of the finest performances of Denzel Washington’s career (which given his track record of awesomeness, is really saying something).
In the opening scene Washington wakes up next to a naked woman and nurses a hangover by sipping last night’s leftover beer while arguing on the phone with his ex-wife about money. Then he does a quick line of cocaine to sober up, puts on a uniform and strides confidently to his job as a major commercial airline pilot. After flying at high speeds through rain clouds and sucking back a few duty-free bottles, Washington suddenly finds himself in control of an aircraft plummeting towards the ground. What follows is one of the most remarkable intense airplane crash sequences ever filmed as Washington daringly pulls a 747 out of it’s dive by flipping it upside down and then landing it in the middle of the field. Only four people die. Hundreds should have.  Denzel is named a hero by the media, but there’s a catch. Facing a potentially lethal lawsuit for a manufacturing error, the airline is in search of a scapegoat and notice all the booze n’ drugs from the blood test taken shortly after the crash. What he did was still miraculous, so a forgiving old pilot buddy/current pilot union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a more by-the-books lawyer (Don Cheadle) join forces to help Denzel out of a jam. Unfortunately they only want to merely cover up the incident, which leads Washington into an all new alcoholic tailspin just in time for his deposition.
John Gatins’ script offers a far more honest and dark depiction of alcoholism than normally seen in Hollywood projects of this scale and that alone makes the movie worth a look. Washington never sugarcoats his role, nor does he slide into Oscar-clip showboating. His work is subtle, communicating more in a single glance of despair or gesture of misplaced confidence than could ever be expressed in the usual big speeches that drag down these sorts of movies. It’s one of the actor’s finest performances and one of his most complex characters. He’s also aided immeasurably by the supporting cast. The likes of Greenwood and Cheadle provide solid support without ever attempting to steal scenes, while Kelly Reilly (aka Sherlock Holmes’ wife in the Robert Downey Jr. edition) is somewhat of a revelation as the requisite all-caring former-hooker/heroine addict with a heart-of-gold could have so easily been a clichéd character type. From the scene-stealing department marches in John Goodman (to the sound of The Stones, man) as Washington’s long time friend/dealer. He’s a walking force of hippy philosophies and excess who plows through every scene as the hysterical comedic relief. The role almost feels like it’s from another movie, but the laughs provided are welcome.

Zemeckis has always secretly been a comedy filmmaker working in blockbusters and Flight is filled with dark humor that both elevates misery from the addiction drama and flavors it effectively. The filmmaker is clearly trying to make his most “meaningful” movie and challenges Hollywood conventions regularly. Much of the film is brilliantly handled by Zemeckis (particularly the plane crash, which truly needs to be seen to be believed). The trouble is that in his core the director is still a populist and there’s a thread of a conventional redemption drama running through Flight that undermines the film’s more complex examination of addition. The first hour or so is brilliant, but once both God and AA are evoked in the same scene, melodrama slips in and never entirely leaves. Zemeckis’ bobs and weaves his way through combining a conventional redemption arc and a character who refuses to conform to those conventions for most of the running time. But somewhere after the two-hour mark, he loses the thread and the film ends on an unfortunately sentimental note. It’s ultimately a long and complicated journey to a fairly simple message about how “drinking sucks” and that’s a bit of a let down.

Fortunately there’s nothing frustratingly wishy-washy about the film’s Blu-ray. Shot on high-def cameras, the image is a stunner with every one of Zemeckis’ acrobatic camera moves gorgeously rendered in vivid colors. The sound mix is also pretty fantastic and while it’s mostly pretty subtle in the long dialogue-driven passages, the plane crash will rock your system and piss off the neighbors appropriately. The disc sadly isn’t overflowing with special features, but what we get is at least solid. There are three main featurettes about the development of the script, general production, and the plane crash that are all packed to the brim with detail and very little back-slapping. There’s also a Q&A session with every major member of the cast and crew (well, minus Denzel…sad face) that dips further into details without any repetition from the main featurettes. It’s only about 45 minutes of material total, but at least all of it is worth a watch. Thankfully what works in this somewhat muddled flick is strong enough to make Flight a Hollywood drama worth seeing and it’s nice to have Zemeckis back in general. It’s a shame that the film couldn’t quite stick the landing, but it presents the populist filmmaker (Zemeckis hasn’t made a movie that grossed less than $150 million since 1980, folks) in a more daring mode than we’re used to. If this is the start of a late career gear-shift, Zemeckis just might have his best film still left in him waiting to burst onto the big screen and that’s something to get excited about. Well, that and the fact that he’s working with actual sets, props, and actors again. (Phil Brown)

Here Comes the Boom (Frank Coraci, 2012) – The prospects of Kevin James being a big screen leading man have always been dubious at best and somewhat dumbfounding at worst, but with the Adam Sandler run Happy Madison company helping him out the former TV star will never be without work. Thankfully despite being clichéd, overblown, over long, and thoroughly unbelievable, the inspirational MMA comedy showcases James’ best traits as a comedian and an actor, namely his scorned puppy antics and a good sense of humour even when getting embarrassed.

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Ten years past his Teacher of the Year award, Scott Voss (James) simply coasts through his daily high school science classes not caring, but he finds a reason to care about his school as a whole (if not really his own job) when budget cuts force the cutting of all extracurricular programmes including the entire music department. The former amateur wrestler Scott then decides to start doing MMA fights for quick cash to help his music teacher buddy (Henry Winkler) from losing his job.

Not a single thing that happens in Here Comes the Boom could ever happen in reality, but it’s strangely less insipid in it’s “let’s save the school” posturing than the direly serious Won’t Back Down. Every scene begins and ends exactly as expected. There are themes about making it as an immigrant and pot shots at the American health care system and violent sporting events, but Coraci and co-writer James simply want to entertain. The drama is forced and the comedy sometimes misses wildly like a roundhouse into the side of the cage, but overall it’s almost surprisingly not as terrible as one would come to expect.

A lot of the credit overall has to go to James, who handles the more serious moments with a sense of conviction and good will. His transformation back into someone who cares works well simply because he’s a guy the audience wants to see succeed. Coraci also directs him with the exact perfect amount of grit given the sport at the heart of it. It’s still not a great film, but it’s easy to see viewers getting more out of it than they might have thought they would. It’s a lazy story told with maximum efficiency and energy, even if it does feel choppy and the only female role (Salma Hayek as the school nurse Scott is sweet on) adds literally nothing at all. It will never be a sports movie classic, but it probably works better than it should have.

The Blu-Ray looks and sounds incredible, as is the case with most Sony releases. There’s a bunch of short featurettes about the film’s production, none of which are that interesting or vital to watch even for fans of the film. There’s a decent amount of deleted scenes, some of which are actually clever, including an alternate ending. (Andrew Parker)

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Celeste and Jesse Forever (Lee Toland Krieger, 2012) – Every year the rom-com fantasies must be gently looked down upon by a star studded tale of failed young love and regret. The latest entry to that canon is Celeste and Jesse Forever, a comedy/drama that runs Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones (who also co-wrote the script) through the heartbreak cycle for bitter laughs and a gentle push into the realm of dramatic acting. It’s funny, sweet, and feels honest, yet also seems just a little too reminiscent of other films of this type without any sense of its own identity. For all of Jones’ attempts to acknowledge and twist rom-com clichés, the movie ultimately settles into it’s own overly familiar milieu of career driven women who need heartbreak to prioritize their love life and man-children who grow up and discover responsibility overnight. It’s still a perfectly pleasant distraction if only for the performances, just unfortunately not nearly as clever or insightful as the film both needs to be and thinks it is.

Jones stars as Celeste a smart and pretty, but hopelessly career obsessed young woman (think Holly Hunter in Broadcast News). She dated Samberg’s hapless would-be artist Jesse since high school before promptly breaking up with him in the hopes of forcing him to find an actual vocation and focus in life. They still hang out and play baby talk games constantly to the endless irritation of their friends (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen), with Jesse even living in Celeste’s guest house. It seems like they’ll eventually get back together and Jesse carries a torch, but after a drunken hook up that Celeste insists can never happen again, things change. Jesse discovers he knocked up a one-night stand and decides to “man-up” and be a father, and Celeste is so shocked that she goes into a tailspin of bad dates, soft drug use, poor hygiene, and even some work troubles at her trendspotting marketing gig. Jesse on the other hand takes well to his newfound maturity and suddenly Celeste, who was never quite over their relationship, has to learn to let go and admit her mistakes.

As you may have guessed, Celeste and Jesse Forever is thankfully not a rom-com fantasy, but a more mature and thoughtful comedy about relationships. The down side is that it’s not a particularly funny one. Jones’ tailspin has its share of amusing moments (like when she passes out in the pool at a friends party or the couples games she shares with Samberg), just not nearly enough. The movie also isn’t insightful enough to work as a drama with comedic moments as the uptight-business-girl-goes-mushy and failed-artist-becomes-responsible tropes are worn out and unnatural. Director Lee Toland Krieger uses the typical rough-hewn indie handheld camera aesthetic in an attempt to force a feeling of “realism” onto the material, but that in itself is such a low-budget cliché at this point, that it’s just distracting. There are a few scenes staged in that manner where the jagged style enhances the fraught emotions (particularly the finale), but not enough to justify the entire movie being shot that way. There just aren’t laughs or hash truths on display and at least one of those elements needs to be in ready supply for this sort of flick to work.

Of course, it’s far from bad. There are the two leads that share enough undeniable chemistry and balance the competing comedic/dramatic threads of their roles so well that the actors are at least worth watching even if the movie isn’t. Andy Samberg is given his first role outside of his usual broad sketch-comedy style and delivers admirably. He’s funny and charming when he needs to be, which is to be expected. More impressive and unexpected is the fact that he can effortlessly carry off painful scenes without laughs. That’s a skill he’ll need to survive outside of the SNL bubble and this movie proves he can do it. Even better is Rashida Jones. Trapped on a treadmill of playing straight-laced girlfriends in light comedies for far too long, the actress clearly wrote the film as a showcase for herself and nails it. Whether barreling through hilarious drunken scenes of embarrassment or tearing up during heartfelt moments of reflection, there isn’t a moment where Jones feels less than assured and natural. She clearly has a hefty stack of untapped talent leagues above how she’s been used before and if nothing else this film will hopefully get her enough attention to land some meaty parts in the future. The movie proves that she’s a comedic and dramatic actress to watch, even if she also seems to be a writer who should maybe leave the scribbling in her journals.

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The DVD comes with a fun commentary track with Jones, Samberg, Krieger, and co-writer Will McCormick, some slight deleted scenes, a brief making of doc, and an insightful post screening Q&A. (Phil Brown)

 

Alex Cross (Rob Cohen, 2012) – After a pair of successful big screen outings for novelist James Patterson’s beloved psychologist and detective Alex Cross starring Morgan Freeman in the 90s, comes the reboot-slash-prequel starring Tyler Perry as the titular character in a film that isn’t even a tenth of what Freeman’s competent, but still disposable outings were. This film is a perfect storm of awfulness that manages to get every detail wrong in the biggest of ways.

Before he became the biggest profiler for the FBI, Alex Cross was simply a Detroit cop hot on the heels of an assassin (Matthew Fox) that has targeted everyone around a well connected French businessman (Jean Reno). Together with his team (including partner Ed Burns) they engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse that turns personal in some of the sleaziest ways possible.

Patterson’s books were never one for subtlety. They’re over the top yarns with short chapters perfectly designed for airplane reading, but there’s far less to get invested in during this big screen porting that’s bereft of any sort of logic, reasoning, or tact. The entire opening twenty minutes of the film gets wasted on languid expository dialogue that tells instead of shows and not one, but two action sequences that have absolutely nothing to do with the movie at all and are never explained.

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Rob Cohen has proven in the past to be a competent action director, but here his talents are wasted with cut rate CGI and impossible to follow editing. There’s nothing he can do to save it, and the cast isn’t doing him any favours.

Burns has played this kind of role in his sleep before, and Fox isn’t so much menacing as he seems over caffeinated and emaciated. It’s a great transformation saddled with a strangely goofy performance. Not even the usually reliable Reno is able to keep his dignity in this mess, and he was in Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla.

But it’s Perry who’s worst of all. He’s laughably bad and woefully incapable of being an action hero or the brilliant mind that Cross is. A scene where someone close to him dies is spectacularly miscalculated and kills what little entertainment value the movie had when it happens.

The Blu-Ray looks and sounds fine if you’re into this sort of thing, but the real special part of this disc is the hilariously pretentious commentary track from Cohen who seems to have over thought every detail of his movie. There’s also some rough form deleted scenes and a featurette about bringing Cross from the bookstore to the big screen. (Andrew Parker)

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Les Infideles (Various, 2012) – It’s a shame that Oscar winner Jean Dujardin finds his own anthology creation coming out so close to Movie 43, not because of how much better it is or because of how much more unintentionally loathsome it is. A morality saga showcasing the different ways men can ruin their lives by cheating on their wives, this gathering of purposefully offensive and sexually deranged stories (all starring Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche in different roles, and made by different directors including Dujardin and The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius) never settles on a tone throughout other than rampantly sexist and shower inducing levels of depression. Very rarely do things get seen from the standpoint of the women and ever man is kind of an asshole. Even worse than the forced comedy is the false sense of moralizing in the deathly serious stories. It’s not designed to be a non-stop laugh riot, and that’s the biggest problem since it can’t decide if it wants to be a piss take or it wants to be taken seriously. None of these characters are likable, and they aren’t supposed to be, but would it be too much to ask for them to be interesting? It’s purposefully provocative whether it’s trying to be dramatic or over the top. Worst of all, it’s boring with little to no insight on the subject it’s trying to talk about. Aside from failing in its provocation, it’s also one of the most lifeless anthologies ever put to film, which I guess should count for something. (Andrew Parker)

 

The Inbetweeners Movie (Ben Palmer, 2011) – The popular UK television comedy about four high school aged friends (which was unsuccessfully remade in the US by MTV) who aren’t cool enough to be popular and not nerdy enough to be losers got its send off with this surprisingly lifeless big screen finale that almost misses the point of what made the show so endearing in the first place. One doesn’t need to understand who the characters really are because this outing that sends them all off on a spring break styled adventure harkens back to when American Pie clones were all in vogue. The cast might be the same and doing an admirable job, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before. Did this trend really take that long to get overseas? Probably explains why it took well over a year and a half to make it to DVD here, and with no special features at that. My suggestion is to just pick up the set of the series that was recently put out by eOne in Canada and come back to this one only if you’re a super fan or are really bored. (Andrew Parker)

L’affaire Dumont (Daniel Grou, 2012) – Sadly unseen in most of English speaking Canada, this legal drama hits all the standard based on a true story beats, but features an excellent leading performance from Marc Andre Grondin as a shy man arrested and put on trial for a rape he says he couldn’t have committed. There’s not much to differentiate this film thematically from the 80s legal thrillers the script seems to have derived from, but Grodin gives a wholly sympathetic performance, and director Daniel Grou (a.k.a. Podz) brings a considerable amount of slow burning style to set this one ahead of the pack. No special features on the DVD. (Andrew Parker)

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