Movie Review: “Sully”

Starring
Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn
Director
Clint Eastwood

On January 15, 2009, commercial airline pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the middle of the Hudson River when the plane struck a flock of geese shortly after takeoff, causing both engines to fail. It took the combined efforts of Sully’s crew and over 1,000 first responders in New York City and New Jersey to ensure the safety of all 155 passengers. But director Clint Eastwood’s big screen adaptation of the famous incident opens with an alternate version of the crash – one that ends in a fiery (and eerily familiar) explosion into the side of a New York City skyscraper. Why risk the fury of moviegoers with such distressing 9/11 imagery? Because it shows how differently it could have ended without Sully’s heroic act, and in doing so, gets the audience firmly behind its subject from the start.

The film begins several weeks after the so-called Miracle on the Hudson, with Sully (Tom Hanks) and his crew, including First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), making the talk show rounds to discuss their experience. Unbeknownst to the general public, there was an investigation taking place behind closed doors with the National Transportation Safety Board in order to determine whether Sully’s “forced water landing” (he refuses to use the word “crash”) was justified or reckless. So when a computer simulation of the accident reveals new data that suggests the airplane could have made it back to LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport without injury to any of the passengers, it casts a shadow of self-doubt on the experienced pilot, who’s already under an immense amount of pressure between the ongoing investigation, the numerous media commitments and financial problems at home, not to mention the PTSD caused by the incident itself.

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Movie Review: “The Hollars”

Starring
John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Sharlto Copley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director
John Krasinski

Actor John Krasinski returns behind the camera with “The Hollars,” the follow-up to his 2009 directorial debut “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” an adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s novel of the same name. Although that film was greeted with mostly negative reviews, Krasinski’s sophomore effort is a compelling and kind-hearted, albeit familiar, tale about returning home.

After learning his mother is sick, John Hollar (Krasinski) has to fly back home, away from his unsatisfying job and his pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). Upon his arrival, he’s greeted by his brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), who was recently fired by their dad, Don (Richard Jenkins), from the family store. After his divorce, Ron is still living at home, doing considerably worse than his younger brother, who once dreamt of what he thinks is a better life as a graphic novelist. Once he arrives home, he’s forced to confront past mistakes, rebuild relationships, and be there for his family, most notably his mother Sally (Margo Martindale), who’s been diagnosed with a massive brain tumor.

That plot summary tells you exactly what you’re in for. In one subplot, John even has dinner at his ex-girlfriend’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) house with her husband Jason (Charlie Day), who comedically hovers around to make sure nothing happens between them. It’s an overly broad scene that speaks to “The Hollars” biggest problem: it tries a little too hard with the laughs. Screenwriter James C. Strouse often goes big with the gags, and sometimes at the expense of the drama. It feels like almost every dramatic scene has to end with a laugh or some kind of gag to provide levity. The jokes are sometimes more calculated than a natural mix of the good (the laughs) and the bad (the drama) in these situations.

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Blu Tuesday: American Crime Story, Now You See Me 2 and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson”

WHAT: A dramatic retelling of the O.J. Simpson case, in which the former NFL superstar turned actor (Cuba Gooding Jr.) was tried on two counts of murder for the 1994 deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

WHY: There’s been a lot of great television this year, and FX’s “American Crime Story” is right up there at the top. Though most people of a certain age remember the media circus surrounding the so-called Trial of the Century, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” manages to feel like an entirely fresh experience, revealing things about the case you may not have known before while also recapturing all the infamous moments. Told largely from the perspective of the lawyers, the show examines topics like race, gender, celebrity and the criminal justice system and how each one affected the outcome of the trial. There’s hardly a dull moment throughout the show’s debut season, including the excellent bottle episode “A Jury in Jail,” which details the mental and physical strain placed on the jurors throughout the lengthy court case. At its core, however, “American Crime Story” is just a really excellent actor’s showcase that features award-worthy performances by Sarah Paulson (as lead prosecutor Maria Clark), Courtney B. Vance (as flashy defense attorney Johnny Cochrane) and Sterling K. Brown (as Clark’s second chair, Christopher Darden), among others. The series is so engrossing and expertly cast that it’s like watching the murder trial all over again, only this time, with an unrestricted view of the chaos and drama.

EXTRAS: There’s a retrospective on the real-life trial featuring interviews with the cast, crew and show consultants, as well as an interactive timeline.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Movie Review: “The Light Between Oceans”

Starring
Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown
Director
Derek Cianfrance

In the summer of 2011, I had a brief gig with a gigantic movie database, tagging films with certain key words. Under the ‘Plot’ category was my favorite tag: “Hide the Body!” It brings to mind movies like “Very Bad Things,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Shallow Grave,” films where someone dies under gruesome or mysterious circumstances and the remaining characters keep the death a secret because it benefits them somehow. “The Light Between Oceans,” a period piece set off the western coast of Australia, is a Hide the Body movie. Gotta say, didn’t see that coming.

This aspect of the plot wreaks havoc on the rest of the story, too. Try as they might to make a tasteful art film about love and betrayal – and for a few stretches, they succeed – the thriller angle of the story disrupts the tone once it comes to the forefront. There is clearly a lot going on between the ears of the main characters (grief has many layers), but very little of it is translated on screen for the viewer.

After serving his country in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) enlists to man a lighthouse on an island off the western Australian coast. Before he leaves for the island, he meets cute with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). When Tom receives an extended contract to stay on the island, he asks Isabel to marry him, so she can be with him on the island. The two try to start a family, but Isabel’s first two pregnancies end in miscarriage. Days after the second miscarriage, a dinghy washes ashore and inside it is a dead man and a live newborn baby. Isabel convinces Tom not to report the encounter, and then they bury the dead man and claim the newfound baby as their own.

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Best of the Bombs: Finding treasure among Hollywood’s trash

best_of_bombs

This month marks the 30th anniversary of “Howard the Duck” hitting theaters in 1986. That film was a large commercial and critical failure, offering up bad puns and a convoluted plot that audiences simply weren’t interested in seeing. However, sometimes the box office doesn’t tell the whole story, and those films deemed as flops are actually worth taking a second look at to discover an enjoyable, if weird, movie. Here are 15 films, in chronological order, that deserve to be rediscovered despite their terrible performance with ticket buyers.

“Pennies from Heaven” (1981)

Audiences weren’t ready for Steve Martin in anything but wacky comedies in the ’80s and probably weren’t exactly primed for a subversive musical drama that is caked in cynical darkness, either. But Herbert Ross’ Pennies from Heaven” (based on the UK miniseries of the same name by Dennis Potter) is an astounding achievement that juxtaposes the lively musical numbers of the day with the bleak existence many faced in the 1920s. It has incredible performances from Martin, Bernadette Peters and Christopher Walken, features some impressive song and dance sequences, and really hits the emotional core of broken dreams.

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