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Several movies have opened of late that revolve around parent/child relationships, especially a single-parent household. I don’t know if this is part of a zeitgeist or whether award season tends to topics that comic book movies normally don’t cover. But whatever the reason, it is what it is.
In Toni Erdmann, the German entry in the foreign language category at the Oscars, and the one expected to win, is about a retired father who decides to look up his consultant daughter who lives in another city. She’s in the middle of a major deal and really doesn’t have time for him (and the suggestion is that he’s never really had time for her), but instead of taking the hint and leaving, he sticks around, dons a wig and false teeth and pretends to be a life coach called Toni Erdmann, insinuating himself into his daughter’s life.
The odd turn here is that the daughter seems to decide to call his bluff and pretend that he is the person he is claiming to be.
The movie is overflowing with charm and has a certain quirky atmosphere to it. I can understand why it’s a crowd pleaser in many ways. And I can’t say I left disappointed. Read the rest of this entry »
First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
As I was viewing The Equalizer, the new origin film (because that is what it is; it’s not an Equalizer movie, but how the central character becomes the who you gonna call, or in this case, contact via craigslist.com, crime fighter) written by Richard Wenk (from the 1980’s television series starring Edward Woodward and created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim) and directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington who won the Oscar when Fuqua directed him in Training Day and…
Anyway, as I was saying, while I was watching the film, the same thought kept occurring to me:
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Read the rest of this entry »
Flight, the new film from writer John Gatins and director Robert Zemeckis, has an incredible set piece near the beginning of the movie in which a pilot (Denzel Washington) is forced to crash land a plane in nightmare conditions by making it roll 360 degrees (flying upside down for awhile) and coming down on a field near a church about ready to do some Sunday go to meeting baptisms. It’s an amazing technical feat (and not just the landing, but the filming as well) and it’s an exhilarating start. When this section is over, the movie sets up an equally incredible enigma: Whip, the pilot, was drunk and had cocaine in his system when he performed this unbelievable stunt; but that wasn’t the cause of the crash. And Whip’s handling of the landing was something that ten other pilots couldn’t have done sober. So the whole movie seems more than ready to tackle issues and questions brought up by this fascinating conundrum.
And then the movie becomes…something else, something else entirely, and something that has nothing to do with either the crash landing or what sort of punishment should be given to a pilot who is able to make a miraculous landing (Gatins’ words, not mine) while drunk. It actually becomes a rather routine, formulaic The Lost Weekend, The Days of Wine and Roses, When a Man Loves a Woman, Clean and Sober (fill in with your favorite film in the genre) story about an alcoholic.
Six people died in the crash and a huge number of people were seriously injured. But is this their story or is the story about the crash and what it means? No. Believe it or not, all of this is chopped liver. All of this is a macguffin, because the only reason for any of this, the only purpose for all these deaths, the only purpose of the crash, the only reason for all this destruction is so that Whip will start going to AA.
I’m not kidding. I am totally serious. And to back up this idea, there’s a ton of talk about God in the movie and whether everything is preordained or has a purpose, whether everything that happens is just part of an overall plan. To be fair, all this mention of God at times tends to be a bit metaphorical in that whenever the big guy’s name is mentioned, He’s a stand in for all the unforeseen and uncontrollable things that happen in life, as when destruction from a hurricane is an “act of God”. But still.
And it’s not that the movie is without its positive aspects. But oddly enough, it’s not when the film focuses on Whip’s journey, but when it focuses on the issues related to the crash that the movie really comes to life. Both Don Cheadle, as a long suffering lawyer, and Peter Gerety, as the owner of the airline, stand out as the few who really seem to understand what is really going on and that the meaning of the crash is the crash and that Whip’s journey is actually a hindrance and just getting in the way of the real issues. When Gerety tells everybody off, I thought, finally, someone who really gets what it’s all about.
Washington is fine as Whip, but he’s always a lot more fun when he’s playing anti-heroes like here, people you would not want to meet in a darkened alleyway. Melissa Leo also makes her mark at the end because, like Cheadle and Gerety, she’s in a different movie. The low point, though, has to be John Goodman as Whip’s connection. Goodman is one of our finest character actors, but here, as in Argo and some other recent films, he’s been reduced to playing, well, John Goodman roles, and he deserves better.
In all fairness, I should point out that many in the audience around me were deeply moved. But I just couldn’t join in. For me, if truth be told, I was bit offended. Here I thought that Leibnitz and the philosophy of “the best of all possible worlds” ended with Voltaire’s ruthless satire Voltaire. But apparently not. No matter how awful things are, no matter how many people die, no matter how much destruction there is, it’s okay, because there’s always a silver lining. People can die, but their death has meaning because it helped someone enter a recovery program. Really.