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.
Because Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity ended the way it did, director Tod Williams had no choice but to focus on a different side of the Rey family when he shot Paranormal Activity 2. However, just because PA2 was, in large part, a clean slate (most obviously indicated by way of new main characters and a new director), it’s important to note that Williams’ version wasn’t absent of the terror, anxiety, and discomfort we felt, endured, and honestly enjoyed when we sat through the first one. Thankfully, all of the suspense and tension reappeared in the sequel, and critics were not entirely wrong in warning us to “say goodbye to sleep.”
PA2 starts out rather happily, when Daniel (Brian Boland) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden, who's sister is Katie from the first Paranormal Activity) bring their new baby boy, Hunter, home from the hospital. Using a hand held camera, the proud mom and dad decide to document the first experiences of their newly complete family unit. But once their house becomes the target of several break-ins that seem more destructive than productive (as none of Kristi’s diamonds are removed from their drawers), Kristi and Daniel decide to have security cameras installed so they can monitor what happens when they’re not home. Feeling pretty sure that this measure would put a stop to the break-ins, Daniel and Kristi resume their lives as usual. It’s only when things start tipping over and lights start flickering do we get any indication that the security cameras, in fact, can do nothing to protect the family from what is about to attack it. Williams does a noticeably decent job in layering on the strange instances and happenings around the house rather slowly and subtly, which essentially saves the movie from becoming a satire or crossing over into the same territory as those movies that have the word "movie" in their titles. And though the choice to shoot the movie using a camcorder is so obviously an attempt to make the movie seem like less of a movie plot and more like the aforementioned disturbances just happened to take place during an otherwise happy time in a family, it actually benefits the entire project.
The Blu-ray set came with two discs - the first disc had the movie on Blu-ray and the film's "special features," and the second disc just had a regular DVD copy of the movie. This proved to be quite problematic for me, personally, because I don't own a Blu-ray player, which meant I was unable to check out the special features. I realize I'm a bit behind the curve in the fact that I do not own a Blu-ray player, but it's still unclear as to why (if a set consists of two discs), the disc that cannot be played in every machine would be the one with the special features on it (since Blu-ray players play both regular DVDs and Blu-rays, while regular DVD players do not play Blu-rays at all).
But once I manifested a Blu-ray player for myself, I realized there were no special features on the Blu-ray disc! Hahaha! I must have been wrong for thinking the text on the Blu-ray that said "special features" meant there would be special features I could watch. But instead, the disc just consisted of of a version of the movie, an extended version of the movie, the theatrical trailer, and something called "found footage," which was basically just a fancy name for deleted scenes. So I was kind of disappointed that I couldn't get any inside information about what it was like to make the movie -- whether it was from the cast, crew, writers, producers, or whoever. I mean, I assumed it takes a little extra production effort to make a movie where things fall down on their own and such than it does to make a romantic comedy, so I thought the filmmakers would have wanted to share how they made things like that happen with their audience because they were proud of the result. But it was saddening to see that Williams and his crew decided against letting us in on their techniques but I guess if they anticipate making a Paranormal Activity 3, then they certainly weren't going to be inclined to reveal anything too worthwhile.
To those only vaguely familiar with The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel about a murdered teen who observes her family — and tracks her killer — from beyond Peter Jackson might seem like an odd choice to direct the film adaptation. Why would the visual effects maestro who orchestrated such grand spectacle in films like King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy be attracted to Bones’ somber reflective subject matter wherein nary an orc or a goblin can be found?
Shortly after the film's opening moments Jackson’s definitive answer arrives in the form of the “in-between place ” a breathtaking limbo where our wide-eyed heroine 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) arrives after her life is cruelly cut short by a next-door neighbor and closet predator named ominously enough Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Susie’s experience of the afterlife as a sort of spiritual way-station featuring elements of both heaven and hell (but mostly heaven) is a veritable CGI playground for Jackson one in which he can employ all of the digital tools in his vast arsenal in the service of a powerful affecting story.
And what a gorgeous playground it is. As Susie journeys through her wondrous netherworld — sometimes alone sometimes accompanied by a perky young spirit guide named Holly (Nikki SooHoo) — Jackson serves up a succession of exquisitely rendered landscapes for her to explore from placid spring meadows to boundless Alpine slopes to lush green forests. Jackson knows all too well that the issue of life after death especially when considered in regards to those who left us too soon is fertile emotional ground. With the help of an irresistibly expressive Ronan he mines it shrewdly.
Back on Earth unfortunately The Lovely Bones takes the form of a poorly-constructed deeply unsatisfying police procedural. Frustrated by the authorities’ inability to find the killer Susie's anguished father (Mark Wahlberg) mounts an investigation of his own aided occasionally in Ghost-like fashion by his daughter’s unseen hand. Tension rises as the mystery unravels — Jackson having drawn us in with his shamelessly manipulative handiwork has us by the emotional short-hairs so much so that we’re willing to overlook the film’s gap-laden storyline redundant narration underdeveloped supporting characters and a generally underwhelming Wahlberg. We just want payback damnit.
But when The Lovely Bones’ moment of truth arrives Susie abruptly changes her mind effectively turning almost every preceding plot point into an infuriating red herring and depriving us of the emotional release Jackson so steadfastly prepared us for. What we’re left with ultimately is an experience akin to taking a shot of morphine and watching someone play the videogame Myst for two hours (a span that might very well be reduced to 45 minutes if the film’s copious slow-motion shots were all played at normal speed). And once the anodyne buzz wears off the comedown is agonizing.