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.   

New York’s New Green Space: Liberty Park

In the last 15 years, New York has seen a vigorous expansion of new or reinvented public spaces. From the High Line to Brooklyn Bridge Park, these re-purposed spaces from their industrial past have proven to be assets to the city’s hunger for space.

Liberty Park is a reinvented space but for a different reason; the events of September 11th.

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Liberty Park looking to the west.

When the original World Trade Center was created, the former Austin J. Tobin Plaza was a wide albeit barren space that had more concrete than green. Looking at older photos prior to writing this I realized the missed opportunities of that space but for it’s time it was perhaps the gold standard in modernist design. Simple, rational and spartan.

As a result, Liberty Park has two jobs; one is to provide suitable open space to the people who work, live and visit the Lower Manhattan area and two restore a form of public space that was lost due to 9/11 and the creation of the memorial.

Liberty Park combines the site of two former structures from pre-9/11 Lower Manhattan. The first, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, was the only structure to be destroyed in the 9/11 attacks that was not part of the World Trade Center complex. It also held a separate distinction as the only religious structure to also be destroyed for St. Paul’s Chapel is opposite the site to the est.

The second, the Deutsche Bank Building, had to demolished due to structural damage. I watched over the decade as they slowly demolished the 40-story structure. The three blocks that the two structures existed upon were merged to create a underground parking lot for the new World Trade Center complex.

On top of the parking lot’s entrance is Liberty Park. The park, which opened on June the 30th, was built by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and designed by landscape architect Joseph E. Brown. The park, which is approximately one acre, is a much needed portion of green space in an area where there is very little.

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Man Looking at the 9/11 Memorial from Liberty Park.

The park overlooks the 9/11 Memorial and the rest of the World Trade Center campus to the north, the former World Financial Center, now called Brookfield Place, to the west and one of my personal favorite skyscraper’s in Lower Manhattan, 1 Wall Street in the east.

The most unique aspect is the living wall. It’s a wall of plants that is 20 feet high and is mix of periwinkle, Japanese spurge, sedge, Baltic ivy, and Winter creeper. The benches are made of what appears to be wood are nice, wide and comfortable to sit on.

On the southwest corner of the park sits the America’s Response Monument, dedicated to the troops who were part of the Special Forces team that were the first to be deployed in Afghanistan. The image of a man on the horse stems from the unique aspect of Afghanistan’s geography. With no suitable way to get across terrain, 12 members were given horses by local tribesman friendly to the U.S.

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America’s Response Monument

Despite that only two members knew how to ride a horse, the team accepted the idea and with the assistance of the tribes, they drove the Taliban from the area. The fact that a group of 21st century soldiers, using what was thought to be an outdated form of warfare to defeat an enemy showed the strength and agility of the U.S. military.

The memorial, it should be noted is the first memorial dedicated to members of our special forces that will be open to the public, was dedicated in 2011. It initially was placed at Brookfield Place and then shunted next to the One World Trade Center but behind a construction fence. So I’m thankful that it’s in a better spot.

The view will give visitors a new perspective of the memorial but also give residents a place to get away from the hubbub of the memorial below.

A worthy alternative indeed.

 

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 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.”