According to the commercials for the film Flight, critics are applauding it. Even the usually inspirational New York Film Festival made it the Closing Night feature which made me more excited for it. Denzel’s even got the cover of The Hollywood Reporter. But sadly, and oddly, this is the weakest work I’ve seen from both Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis in a long time.

Denzel floats through this movie, pulling the usual Denzel overbite smiles and scowls, but never able to create a lead character as anything more than a two-dimensional representation of a pilot with a drug and alcohol addiction.  The fact that there could even be people like this character out there flying our planes and entrusted with the safety of millions of people, is enough to make you really want to have some insight into this character – it’s the scariest thing about watching this movie, actually. But there’s nothing in this story a viewer can hold onto or even leave the theater thinking about later. This is film better suited to be a cable TV movie. It’s flat.

Some scenes are even (maybe purposefully) laughable. In one, we see Denzel supposedly so hammered on booze he can’t even speak, much less stand up. In another, we see a woman shooting coke to the point of overdose , being rolled out on a stretcher, and then next time we see her in the story she is officially clean. It’s preposterous. If Zemeckis thinks this is what a drug-addled life is like, and what drug-use plays out like in the most terrible of addicts, he’s spent a way too sheltered life. I mean he could have at least done some research; hell, watched Requiem for a Dream, Leaving Las Vegas, anything.

Denzel is a great actor when given the right director (Ed Zwick, Tony Scott, Antoine Fuqua) and this role in Flight was perfect for him. The Hollywood Reporter article even talks about how he prepared for it and his level of interest and discipline in preparing for the role. So, it’s infuriating for me to have to watch him reprise his single tear territory from the Glory days because Zemeckis can’t man up and put his actor in the grit or at least get the thing to be more well-rounded. Zemeckis is better suited to his standard PG-13 fare acceptable for all his caucasian Christian audiences to devour and tout and play for their kids during the holiday school breaks. I’m surprised he didn’t put Tom Hanks in this role. I mean really, why did it even have to be a black pilot who does these such despicable things? Plus, at least we know Zemeckis is capable of getting something tangible out of Hanks.

Denzel too easily becomes typecast to this kind of character (the flawed hero), but he also shines when give the right motivation (e.g. Training Day, Man on Fire), so why couldn’t Zemeckis pull this off like those directors did? And why is no one else seeing the atrocity of this film as I see it?!

Literally everything is wrong in the picture except parts of the flight crash sequence. There’s an odd, hard to read, badly played out few scenes with the co-pilot (before, during and after the crash). The scene after, in the hospital, we get the chance to meet his wife who Zemeckis decided to make an over zealous, cartoonish representation of a devout Christian. It was just ill-fitting in the movie. What is he trying to say? Why all the references to religion in the movie? How convenient and odd is it for the plane to coincidentally crash directly over the congregation of a cultish-like church? It’s like some M. Night concept that was abandoned by him and picked up by Zemeckis, but then never followed through upon.

Don Cheadle is a cold, heartless lawyer for the pilot’s union, of course. John Goodman is there for comic-relief I suppose, although he’s anything but funny (unlike usual). Instead he plays a Beach Boy-styled drug dealer. Again, ill-fitting to the story at hand. If this tells you anything, I actually liked Goodman better in the bit part he had in Coyote Ugly – and that was the last time I didn’t care for a film he was in.

Flight is completely void of any character development to the naked eye. In fact, any development that does happen, apparently happens off-screen and we’re just supposed to be OK with that. If I wanted somebody to tell me a story concisely, I’d just ask the guy at work next to me to tell me how the film was – a movie is supposed to envelop you and make you part of the lives inhabiting the screen. Flight, seems to only care about showing Denzel’s ass and how he can’t stop drinking, but it’s apparently acceptable, because all the alcohol in his system enabled him to think “clearly” during the life or death situation of the film, so that he could pull off a miraculous stunt like inverting a jetliner so that it glides to a softer impact. Right.

Flight tries to be too many things, dealing with religion, the existence of a higher power watching over us, drug use, corporate coldness and union deceitfulness (?), oh and romance, of course. Flight tries so hard, but never actually even gets off the ground.

The Artist

The Artist is a fabulous film, but it’s a film that’s more fabulous for film buffs, film historians and people with a general interest and knowledge in the golden age of cinema. At first glance, I admit, it comes across gimmicky. The strategic use of sound in an otherwise silent film is almost to wonderfully conceptual to see on the screen itself – it seems like it would read better on paper. Director Michel Hazanavicius had a hard task ahead of him when he took on this film. For one, the attention paid to things otherwise unnoticeable in most films (unless they’re terrible), such as continuity, are brought to the forefront in The Artist. I mean really though, when dealing with a live, trained Jack Russell Terrier, continuity is likely never going to be perfect.

I loved this movie because it completely engaged me and that was after I’d forgotten that it was a silent film. There’s a moment going into it, when you think, wow, this is going to be long, and there’s even a moment in the middle a little bit (about the point where Valentin is selling off all his earthly possessions) where you might start to doze off if you’re not careful, but on the whole this is an expertly realized vision of what late ’20s cinema used to be like. The best part is the acting is pitch perfect for this film – unlike most actual moviestars of the time period, the expressiveness of the cast is not overblown (unless it needs to be), but at the same time, you get better, more subverted performances by actors like John Goodman who are known for their present day overblownness.

You could probably almost say the film is based on true events, because it’s true that at the dawn of the “talkies,” many silent-era actors and filmmakers were quickly left behind for the new style. Most endearing to audiences though, is likely not the look back at our cinema’s early transition to a new style, but the damned Jack Russell, Uggie, who is a star very much in his own right. Uggie is not only the hero of the film, but the comedic relief and the dramatic TED (or tension-enhancing-device), as I like to call them. TED’s are characters that do not necessarily seem integral to the plot at the onset, but quickly become a reliable audience grabber to help push the narrative. In the case of The Artist, it’s extra unqiue and deliberate because the director knows that what better to help an audience emote through a silent film, than an animal which can’t talk anyway?

The Artist is a perfect combination of all the critical elements of true Hollywood cinema, but snuck upon you like you never expect. While Tree of Life may be amazing, and Malick in my mind deserves at least three statues to date, I think The Artist is a good fit and worthy candidate for Oscar gold.

You Don’t Know Jack

Jack Kevorkian. Which ever side of his principles you find yourself on, there will still be something you can relate to in this made-for-HBO flick by Barry Levinson. Levinson has a number of comedy-drama biopics under his belt and he knows how to keep this one intriguing. Kevorkian alone is a pretty intriguing guy–let’s be honest, but Levinson’s addition of his comic-relief sidekick in the gregarious John Goodman is a smart touch. Kevorkian on his own accord (as he is at the end of the film), is just a somber man.

Levinson went little overboard with the whole “case-file” style of itemizing the death’s by number. I could have done without that prime-time TV post-production addition. This is really a film that’s all about story, the visuals are relatively uninspired and seem only as interesting as the scene needs them to be. The film is holding itself back from becoming a soapbox, and it’s really about the idea and purpose that Kevorkian found himself attracted to and to which he was ultimately devoted for the rest of his life.

Prison was a mere inconvenience for him and lawyers were of no use as he could see it, he had to be talked into the one he had on his side. I use “on his side” here loosely, as we come to find out that the attorney for Kevorkian through the initial stages of his “assisted suicide” self-made career, was actually less interested in Kevorkian’s cause as he was Kevorkian’s public image. The film feels less biographical and more narrative in its approach as we are thrown into the story at beginning watching Kevorkian as he peers helplessly into the hospital room in which his mother lies. She’s in solitude in the throws of the death-rattle and it becomes immediately apparent that this was personal for Kevorkian all along.

Pretty soon everyone who is close to Jack is either dead, dying or alienated. I believe he was a severely emotional man, one who was easily misunderstood due to his radical thoughts and unconventional view on life and death, and one who wasn’t able to express what he was feeling other than reaching out his hand as best he knew how. As with any great emotional investment in something, when it becomes threatened and has to be moderated, those emotionally involved can and will likely act or appear irrational. Kevorkian himself, grew a little irrational, believing that he was doing something that would take societal hold in a matter of years.

Al Pacino plays Kevorkian to a obsessive-compulsive, dictatorial, heart-warming tee and he and Levinson keep the of-late, overacting effervescence (and spit) to null. Despite the easily enhanceable likeness of Pacino to Kevorkian, it would seem their personas and styles would completely repel; however, Pacino here has made an easily disregarded man very much a man to be regarded. Quickly overshadowed and kept that way since the 90s, his cause is one to be considered for more debate, though it likely won’t see that for some time – if ever. Like many other things in Jack’s life, it appears his cause is doomed to die.