Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
You won't be hearing the name Steven Soderbergh at this year's Independent Spirit Awards.
Instead, try Miguel Arteta, Darren Aronofsky and Kenneth Lonergan -- whose "Chuck & Buck," "Requiem for a Dream," and "You Can Count On Me," respectively, have nabbed a field-best five nominations each at the 16th Annual Independent Spirit Awards.
"Chuck & Buck" -- the second full-length feature from Arteta -- was nominated for best feature under $500,000, screenplay, director, supporting female (Lupe Ontiveros) and debut performance (Mike White).
Among "Requiem's" nominations are best director (Darren Aronofsky) and best feature. The drug-addiction flick will go up against "Before Night Falls," "George Washington," "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in the best film column.
"You Can Count On Me" will run in the categories for best first feature, screenplay, male lead (Mark Ruffalo), female lead (Laura Linney) and debut performance (Rory Culkin).
"George Washington" and "Before Night Falls" garnered four noms apiece.
The nominations were announced at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The winners will be announced March 24, a day before the Academy Awards, at a ceremony held at a large tent by the Santa Monica beach.
Here's a list of all the nominees.
"Before Night Falls"
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"
"Requiem for a Dream" BEST DIRECTOR
Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon")
Christopher Guest ("Best in Show")
Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for A Dream")
Julian Schnabel ("Before Night Falls")
Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck BEST SCREENPLAY
Valerie Breiman ("Love & Sex")
Raymond De Felitta ("Two Family House")
Robert Dillon ("Waking the Dead") Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me") Mike White ("Chuck & Buck") BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Love & Basketball"
"You Can Count On Me" BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
David Gordon Green ("George Washington") Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther ("Tigerland") Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") Jordan Walker-Pearlman ("The Visit") Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") BEST FEATURE - UNDER $500,000
"Chuck & Buck"
"Everything Put Together"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Rory Culkin ("You Can Count on Me")
Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight") Emmy Rossum ("Songcatcher") Mike White, ("Chuck & Buck") Ensemble -- Candace Evanofski, Curtis Cotton III, Damian Jewan Lee, Donald Holden, Rachael Handy ("George Washington") BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Pat Carroll ("Songcatcher")
Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem for a Dream")
Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock")
Lupe Ontiveros ("Chuck & Buck")
Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire")
Cole Hauser ("Tigerland")
Gary Oldman ("The Contender")
Giovanni Ribisi ("The Gift")
Billy Dee Williams ("The Visit") BEST FEMALE LEAD
Joan Allen ("The Contender")
Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream")
Sanaa Lathan ("Love & Basketball")
Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me")
Kelly MacDonald ("Two Family House") BEST MALE LEAD
Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls")
Adrien Brody ("Restaurant")
Billy Crudup ("Jesus' Son")
Hill Harper ("The Visit")
Mark Ruffalo ("You Can Count on Me") BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lou Bogue ("Shadow of the Vampire")
John De Borman ("Hamlet")
Matthew Libatique ("Requiem for a Dream")
Tim Orr ("George Washington")
Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas ("Before Night Falls") BEST FOREIGN FILM
"Dancer in the Dark"
"In the Mood for Love"
"A Time for Drunken Horses"
"The War Zone" BEST DOCUMENTARY
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
"Long Night's Journey Into Day"
Sound and Fury"