Thoughts on Film: “Sully” A solid movie despite some usual biopic hiccups

 

Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Sully,” chronicles the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ one of the most famous crash landings in the history of flight.

Famous of course, for that everyone from the passengers to the crew survived what was thought to be impossible; landing a plane in the middle of a river, in the freezing cold and in New York City, one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Yet on January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 bound for Charlotte, did just that. Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and first officer Jeffery Skiles, played by Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart respectively, the plane lands in the Hudson and ‘Sully’ goes from an experienced pilot to an exceptional one.

The film keeps the plot lean by focusing solely on the landing and the subsequent investigation that follows. Eastwood uses the investigation as a framing device to deliver to the audience the famous crash landing not once but twice.

With the plane now out of the freezing waters of the Hudson. The National Transportation Safety Board begins to grill the men for their decision. The inquiry claims that the plane could have made it back to LaGaurdia Airport when one of the engines was not as badly damaged as the men had thought. While Sully tries to explain that it wasn’t possible, one member of the group Charles Porter, a pugnacious Mike O’Malley, digs in.

Faced with the prospect that there was another way to get the passengers to safety, Sully begins to doubt himself. This on top of the surreal and all-too-fast rise to fame makes him feel adrift and isolated, emotions that Hanks captures beautify.

Hanks is also able to convey Sully’s other emotions, but perhaps the most important is the coolness that Sully has about him. Sully rarely raised his voice in the film, he does so once and that’s when he is evacuation the plane and looking to make sure no one is left behind.

The only two cheerleaders in his corner are his wife Lorraine, a concerned Laura Linney and Skiles. Skiles in particular, is adamant that Sully did the right because it was the only thing. That and apparently he didn’t have any ideas on how to land the plane at the moment.

In terms of direction, Eastwood does a wonderful job of recreating the landing. He managed to get the exact boats from the New York Waterway ferry service, which resued the passengers and even one of the pilots, Peter Vincent ‘Vince’ Lombardi, to play himself in the role. Eastwood made the film as accurately as possible even as so far to edit a ring that Sully wears in real life to get the right color.

In the seven years since the landing, the skyline has changed so much that it even made the landing even more astounding.

I myself remember that day, coming home from school and my dad watching the news. I remember the relief I felt when the news broke that all 155 survived the crash. One thing everyone who was on that flight remembers that I do is that it was really cold.

While I’m not sure if “Sully” will get nominated for any Academy Awards, Hanks could very well be an early contender for the award for Best Actor and Eastwood for Director. The film would also do well in the technical department such as Sound and Editing.

The only hiccup is the characterization of the NTSB officials.  Sullenberger himself asked to have the names of the investigators be changed so that they didn’t come off as “prosecutorial,” the fact that they get the tar and feather treatment is a bit unfair.

While Eastwood claimed that as he read the script which depicted the officials ‘railroading’ Sullenberger and Skiles, which put them on the defensive, the real-life investigators were actually astounded by the level of calmness and teamwork the two men had in order to bring the plane to safety.

In fact, the NTSB, which has no regulatory powers in the U.S. government, only makes recommendations. They made 35 safety recommendations as a result of Sullenberger’s historic landing. Even though it’s become practice that some historical aspect is alter to further dramatize the plot, using the NTSB as a scapegoat may create more harm than good when the public, such as myself, are placed in a disaster involving transport.

While I will not damn the film for this, I will advise a word of caution on biopics and for anyone who has seen or yet to see the film. Filmmakers like, Eastwood are amazing at what they do, including creating narratives for an audience to follow. However perception has a funny way of becoming reality for some people. We should be as if not more so because as the old adage goes, you can’t believe everything you read or see these days.

Grade A-

Sully is rated PG-13, Plane landing in the Hudson, ’nuff said.

Top Lines:  

“I would have done it in July”: Last line in the film uttered by Jeffery Skiles.

“The best way to leave from LaGaurdia is to fly from JFK”:  Donna the stewardess as the flight taxis off the runway.

“40 years in the air but in the end and I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds” Sully.

 

Thoughts on Film: Bad Moms

 

Sometimes it’s good to be bad.

That’s what our overworked heroine Amy Mitchell discovers in the new female driven comedy “Bad Moms.”

Now with the end of the Summer movie season approaching, I’m finding my options to be a bit limited. Sure there is Suicide Squad and Jason Bourne, but where I live, movie going is very expensive and that’s not including the popcorn.

Nonetheless, with a very rainy Saturday and with after work activities, I made my way to my favorite movie theater on the Upper West Side, hoping I made a good choice.

The film focuses on a trio of moms in the suburbs of Chicago. Amy, played by Mila Kunis, is a part-time worker at a coffee company, run by some stereotypical lazy millennials and still is a full-time mom. Her two kids Jane (Oona Lauernce) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) are polar opposites, Jane’s the overachiever and Dylan, at a very young age, has all the markings of a slacker in progress. Her husband Mike (David Walton) is as inattentive to his kids as a 1950’s father so there’s no hope there. In fact he’s finally busted for having a cyber-sex affair.

After having the day from hell, Amy is late to the school’s PTA meeting lead by uber-mom Gwendolyn, an icy Christina Applegate. Gwendolyn, declares Amy should head the ‘bake-sale police,’ as punishment for being late. Amy, fed up with what has happened, declares no and heads to the first bar she finds.

There she meets Carla, a hilarious Kathryn Hahn, a single mother and is soon joined by Kiki, Kristen Bell a stay-at-home mom. The three share their mom fantasies and complain about trying to be the perfect mom.  The next morning, Amy begins to rebel against mommy-hood and takes a personal day. Going to the movies, having brunch, telling her boss to f*** off from a meeting and even getting Jane to relax at a spa.

She even catches the eye of one of the dads, widower Jesse, Jay Hernandez, who’s had a crush on her and is the epitome of the hands on dad. Everything seems to be going well until Gwendolyn, sensing a threat, tries to squash the rebellion of bad moms. Will Amy, Carla and Kiki save the day or would they be forever enslaved to mommy-hood?

To start the film has a good premise and the three leads work very well together. While watching Hahn’s character Carla, I began to imagine Melissa McCarthy’s character Megan from “Bridesmaids.” Loud, unpredictable and yet fiercely loyal to her friends. Carla, as crazy as she is, is someone I want in my corner.

For a comedy, the film keeps an even pace, but it’s all too convenient plot left me wondering if the writers, who are men, really managed to scratched the surface. And even though they wrote the film as a paen/apology to their wives, I wonder if they actually read the script aloud to their wives who could have at least given them some pointers.

The film’s overall message is that you can get loose but not too loose. You can drop the deadbeat husband but must pick up the next available man. You can rebel against the system but you must take control of it until the next rebel comes on the scene.

That’s not to say the women in ‘Bad Moms’ lose the battle of mommy-hood. In fact they have some wins and there is a balance back to the force. But in a weird, roundabout way they argue, a bad mom is the best mom.

Best Moments and Lines*:

“A mom party is the best because it always ends at 11 p.m.”: Amy

“I think you just got be pregnant”: Jesse after he comments Amy on her sexual performance

“You took weeks off to morn the loss of John Snow”: Amy on her colleagues at work.

“I have six of these before 10” : Martha Stewart, commenting on her Jello Shots at the impromptu party that Amy throws to counter Gwendolyn.

Bad Moms is rated  R- Restricted. Contains several cuss words, sex jokes and drinking. Yet only one hangover and Martha Stewart’s Jello Shots.   

Thoughts on Film: All-Female “Ghostbusters” answers the call.

Who ya’ gonna call!

As far as remakes go, they’re only two camps a remake can fall in; they’re sloppy homages to the original with little originality or ones that try to rise to the occasion and bring a new generation into the fold yet fall a little short.

That being said the new “Ghostbusters” film, I’m happy to say, falls into the latter camp. It might not quite top the original in people’s hearts but it’s most dynamic change, an all-female team, is not a liability.

This re-boot of the beloved 80’s franchise keeps many of the tenants of the original in balance with a new look and attitude, that’s leaner, focused and even zanier than the original.

As the story goes, Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wigg) a professor approaching tenure at Columbia, thought she buried her ghost searching past and her book “Ghosts from our Past: Literally and Figuratively,” behind her. Only to be dragged back in by the book’s co-author and former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who now works at a junior college.

Despite herself, Erin encounters a ghost at an old mansion with Yates and her assistant, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Their encounter is posted to YouTube as proof but both are fired from their position. Realizing if they had proof, people would actually take them seriously, the ladies decide to go into research on their own.

Added to the team is MTA transit worker, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who had a separate paranormal encounter of her own while at work and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their handsome yet dim assistant.

As they experiment with new tactics of ghostbusting, thanks to Holtzmann’s insane cache of weapons, they deal with a mysterious occultist named Rowan (Neil Casey). Rowan is silently planning an apocalyptic new world order to make himself a god. They also deal with a reluctant city government trying to deny the existence of ghosts “Men in Black” style. And we thought the guys had it rough.

Kristen Wiig as Dr. Erin Burnett

The cast gels remarkably well with each of them contributing zingers almost every minute of dialogue. Even the sit down with the mayor, played by an equally charming yet stern Adam Garcia, provided some gags.

Wiig is surprisingly good at playing the straight person in the film and her character has a slowly evolving arc from frumpy professor to kick-ass ghostbuster. McCarthy, on the other, serves as cheerleader-in-chief, which doesn’t have much in the comedic department but she gets to be possessed by a ghosts which was crazy in it of itself but showcased her physical comedy.

Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates and Lesile Jones as Patty Tolan

The can-do attitude of the women on the film is as constant as it is infectious for they battle not just the ghosts but the even the men who get in their way.

The film’s true breakout character however, lies with Holtzmann; who McKinnon gives an inspired performance for young women everywhere. The fact that she is quite possibly the first queer Ghostbuster adds a new dimension to her character. It might be easy to compare her to Egon but no she is her own woman and it’s no surprise that her character will be the one that future queer women will look upon her and have their sexual awakening.

Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann

[Sidebar: Dear Sony please give Holtzmann a girlfriend so queer women are better represented in film. It will make us, the movie going public, happy to see something new and say suck it to meninmists everywhere!]

The cameos, some worked well, like Bill Murrary’s which he played a debunker of the supernatural and Ernie Hudson playing Tolan’s uncle who loans them their car. Dan Akroyd’s cameo was perhaps the most New York thing in the movie which he plays a cabbie and Sigourney Weaver as Holtzmann’s mentor symbolized the official passing of the torch to the new generation. The best one however, goes to the late Harold Ramis who is a bust in the beginning of the film.

Chris Hemsworth as Kevin Beckham

Of course when I said try earlier in the post I meant that the reboot has a few missed opportunities. Compared to the original, the film saves much of ghost-busting towards the end of the film a missed opportunity of sorts, since the first film used a montage of them finding ghosts as a way to show their rising popularity.

Their choice of filming in places to fill in for New York, while important for expanding the Ghostbusters universe, also subtracts from the setting since New York has always been a major character in many films. The adventures from the first two Ghostbusters had that classic ‘only in New York’ quality which gave their plots a sense of time and place the current one sort of lacks.

Another missed opportunity, is perhaps the most obvious, the characterization of Patty. While Jones herself defended the decision of the working-class origins of her character it still would have been nice if she still could have been a scientist and still be well Patty.

I left the theater wishing more was done for her since she has definitely more screen time, compared to Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore, who by the way had the best lines in original.

The only redeeming quality is that Patty comes up with a few ideas that contribute to the team effort and is extremely protective of the team, particularly to well you guessed it Holtzmann.

Fieg is great as a comedic director but he is not an action director nor do I want him to be one. If there is to be a sequel, please let someone direct the action scene’s, it worked well for “West Side Story” and they had 11 Oscar nominations to prove it.

However, considering how much of the deck was stacked against them, this Ghostbusters rises to the occasion, reminds us that we all can be Ghostbusters and that films that are remakes can also break ground. But most importantly I just wanna have fun at the movies.

So, “Who ya gonna call???!”

Grade B

Ghostbuster is rated PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned. Light cussing, but inventive use of the middle finger, a theater manager who screams like a girl and ghosts in green, blue and Pilgrims?   

Thoughts on film: Miles Ahead

First things first, April is Jazz History Month, perhaps the only month in the year dedicated to an American musical art form. That being said, three films about iconic Jazz performers, are being released, during the span of a month. The one I saw was “Miles Ahead.”

Named after a Miles Davis album, the film stars Don Cheadle as Davis in a semi-biographical film, that takes the rule-book of biopics and chucks it out the window.

When the movie opens, Davis is siting for an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. The interviewer, asks Davis a question which prompts him to pick up his trumpet, and soon we are whisked to his New York home where he is working on new music.

Music that could give him a comeback, if Davis would stop stonewalling.

The Davis we are seeing are from his lost years. Hobbled by a degenerative hip and drug addiction, Davis shuffles around his shabby home, filled with booze, drugs and other pieces’ of refuse of a man lost in his own mind. One character calls him, “jazz’s Howard Hughes,” due to his hermetic lifestyle.

That stupor fades away when Davis encounters David Braden (Ewan McGregor) a writer, who also happens to come from Rolling Stone magazine. Davis is angered by Braden’s invasion into his domain but, Braden claims that Davis’ record company, Columbia Records sent him to write the comeback piece. Davis, who also has a bone to pick with his label over a $20,000 check, brings Braden along for the ride.

Over the course the film, Davis and Braden, talk, smoke, snort cocaine, and chase some sleazy d-bag producer Harper Hamilton, (Michael Stuhlbrag) who steals a tape that contains Davis’ new material.

Watching Cheadle’s Davis is at times, illuminating because we see privy to Davis’ genius as a performer, his ability to find which note works best with his compositions, for album’s like “Sketches of Spain” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”.

Album Cover of “Someday My Prince Will Come” with Davis’ wife Frances Taylor as the model. (Image from https://themenight.wordpress.com)  

The album cover of “…Will Come,” serves as one of the triggers for Davis’ flashbacks to his relationship with his first wife, Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corindealdi). Taylor an accomplished dancer in her own right, serves as a muse of sorts, and through the flashbacks we see how Davis shines albeit at the expense of Taylor.

While there is a mutual love between the two, it is not enough to save Davis from slowly destroying himself, first with women, then with his abuse towards Taylor and finally his hip begins to give out.  His hair and clothes transition from the suits and sophistication of the 50’s and 60’s to the wild and counter-culture inspired of the 70’s, which appears to be befitting to Davis’ nature. They are other flashback triggers, but this one sticks out due to Davis’ regret of the past.

McGregor himself, holds his own as the wily journalist Braden, who begins to see why Davis wants to be alone, but also can’t quite resist making a few dollars off of Davis’ fame one way or the other. Midway through the film, I begun to question Braden’s involvement with the whole affair. Is he really there for the story, or is he there just for the ride and some cocaine he managed to score for Davis. A dealer who also happens to be a fan.

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis and Ewan McGregor as David Braden about to score well something… (image courtsey of http://www.cinemaclock.com)

The viewer might also wonder if this is all real or is this in someone’s head. I’m not entirely sure what is the right answer, but the only person who knows that is Miles Davis.

Cheadle dodges the tried-and-true tactics of biopic format by pretty much doing the movie his way. Cheadle also used Indiegogo as a fundraising platform for the film, perhaps to zero in on some die-hard Davis fans so that they too felt invested in the story. The plot feels fresh and plausible despite its improvisational feel which might be a stumbling block for some viewers.

If they tried this under the standard biopic formula, Davis who come off as wooden and inaccessible, something he himself disdains. It might get the facts down in a linear fashion, but Cheadle covers the bases enough so that it still is a biopic while still getting Davis right.

Cheadle also does not put Davis’ death date at the end of the film because Davis’ spirit is in those who jammed with him and those who came after him, the innovators, the artists, the genius, the ones who could speak his language and continue jazz to the next generation.

The best line of the film also sums up the films mantra “If you’re gonna tell a story, man, come with some attitude.” If Davis was alive, he would approve of this film and it’s  unique ‘approach’ of telling this story.

 

Thoughts on Movies: The Astronaut Vs. The Red Planet

Poster for the film the Martian, image courtesy of imdb.com 

The new film, “The Martian,” based on the book by Andy Weir, is a movie we didn’t know we needed this year.

A film that is part space western and part survival film, “Martian” is a blast to watch from start to finish with great characters, gorgeous scenery and a fine script.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty shall we.

The story starts when a group of astronauts of the Ares IV, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) are conducting a mission on Mars, when a massive storm hits their base of operations. Forcing them to flee.

While fleeing, a member of the team, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is separated from the group and with no way of either finding him in the storm, Lewis orders the rest of the group, Beck (Sabastian Stan), Johanssen (Kate Mara), Martinez (Michael Peña), and Vogel (Aksel Hennie) onto the rocket to return to Earth.

All of them believe Watney to be dead.

Surprise! He’s not.

Watney wakes up after the storm and realizes he is alone on Mars with only a few weeks of food supplies and some equipment to keep him alive but not much. Knowing it will be four years until the next mission, Ares V, arrives on Mars, he has to survive at least that long in order to escape the Red Planet.

Using his training as a botanist, Watney begins to find inventive ways to grow food and simple know-how to get in contact with NASA so that they can find a way to rescue him.

His activities on Mars gain the attention of Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejofor) back at NASA, with its director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) leading the charge. Also at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are a group of scientists tasked with figuring out how to get him back.

With the full resources of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory trying to save one man. It’s the most nerds you’ve seen on a television or movie screen, “The Big Bang Theory,” notwithstanding.

One of the best traits of the film is that Scott keeps the film simple and grounded so we can root for the characters as they take on the film’s main villain, which is time. Time is always appearing to be running out for both Watney on Mars and those on Earth as they have to mount numerous obstacles; Watney for one has to stay alive long enough to get rescued and those on Earth have to find ways to get him to that point despite being 33.9 million miles away!

Despite this Scott keep things optimistic, something that was adapted from the book himself. Watney doesn’t even blame his team for leaving him. Instead he focuses on staying alive which keeps him from feeling isolated. He knows that he or they will find a way, all he has to do is be alive if they show up.

Everyone brings their A-game to this film, from Daniels stern yet cautions Sanders, to Kristen Wigg’s portrayal of Annie Montrose, the Director of Media Relations at NASA was also fun to watch. She managed to capture exactly what Montrose’s personality was in the books. Other aspects such as Watney’s sense of humor, hatred of disco and the white-knuckled scheme for Watney to re-join his crew was faithfully grafted onto the screen.

While we can’t shoot on Mars, the desert of the Middle Eastern country of Jordan provides the sweeping backdrop of what the red planet is like. Its splendid isolation is heavily contrasted by the frenetic pace of life on Earth.

Just looking at Mars almost makes you want to sign up for the space program, just to get away from it all. Yet, I was reminded throughout the film of five simple words uttered from a girl from Kansas.

“There’s no place like home.”