Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lincoln ★★★★

Making History, Then and Now

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Steven Spielberg is the master of revealing iconic characters on film. Think back to Raiders of the Lost Ark, where, during the opening credits of the film, Indiana Jones' face isn't revealed until he prevents a man from shooting him with the crack of his whip. Or how about Quint's scratch across the chalkboard introduction in Jaws? And I'm sure we all remember the fate of the unlucky goat in Jurassic Park, when the Tyrannosaurus Rex rears his ugly head. Spielberg has a gift for creating memorable imagery that resonates with us years after we've seen our favorite film of his. That talent of revealing memorable characters is echoed once again in his latest film, Lincoln.

The opening scene involves two African American soldiers talking to Lincoln (the perfectly casted Daniel Day-Lewis) about the hardships they continue to face as the Civil War rages on. The camera, focused on these two men, pulls back ever so slowly to show us Lincoln, giving him an almost heroic glow and certainly showing us that were looking at one of the most important figures in our nation's history.

More successfully than any other portrayal of this famous president, Day-Lewis brings humanity to a character that could have very easily been played as an over-the-top idealist. What he and Spielberg pull off in this film is nothing short of amazing. We see Lincoln portrayed as not only a president, but a husband, father, politician and, in some scenes, a normal, everyday guy who loves telling stories. We're familiar with Lincoln's success in creating the Thirteenth Amendment, and while much has been written about him, many will be surprised to see what Day-Lewis brings to the role.

For starters, the voice Day-Lewis created is much higher than previous portrayals of the character, which, as history tells us is probably the closest to how Lincoln actually sounded. In addition, we see his estranged relationship with his son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), as the result of his dedication to politics. Furthermore, his wife, Mary (Sally Field, doing some of her best work in years), still distraught over the death of one of their son's, is more of a burden to the president, even though he tries to be as supportive as he can. In other scenes, we see Lincoln at his best, as he does everything within his power (bribery, persuasion, etc.) to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed in The House of Representatives.

The bulk of the film takes place during those proceedings, which has resulted in the unfair criticism by some that the film as being just a bunch of people talking. The script, from playwright Tony Kushner, is dialogue-heavy and sharp-witted, which somehow turns people off from seeing the film. Take it from me: I'm someone who could not be less interested in politics and I loved Lincoln. For those who know me, and who enjoy reading my work, that should mean a lot.

Because of what he does with the camera, Spielberg is the perfect choice to keep Kushner's dialogue entertaining and informative. We feel like we're a part of the political process in ways that, in recent years, many have forgotten about. This is how our country works and how major events within our government are shaped. Spielberg and Kushner invite us in and never talk down to the audience, nor is anything that any character says difficult for the less politically-savvy people like myself to comprehend.

Yet, if you still feel like you just cannot relate to the material, or if it's a film that just doesn't interest you, alas, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens spends most of the movie yelling at those who believe the color of one's skin somehow makes them less than those with white skin. Jones is terrific as Stevens, bringing out the comedy in ridiculing others and, like Day-Lewis, showing the human side to a man who was seen as a radical for his belief in equality.

If Lincoln isn't a movie you want to see, it's a movie that you should see. It's easily the best film Spielberg has made in years and a reminder of why he's considered one of the greatest directors of our time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Master ★★★

Who Is In Command Of Who?

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master has quickly become the most theorized film of 2012. It's not interested in story, but rather, mood. Before its release, it was said that this film was Anderson's take on Scientology, and to a degree it is, just not in the way many are expecting.

The overall atmosphere of the film is disturbing: every scene hints at an eruption of violence that sometimes occurs and sometimes doesn't, creating a sense of unease and fascination. We feel this largely due to Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both entirely different characters, yet each one possessing a certain sinister quality that hints at instability. 

Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran who brings new meaning to the word addiction, as he both an extreme alcoholic and completely obsessed with sex. His face is twisted, his body is bent, and his actions are menacing. He floats from one job to the next, first as a photographer, then as a cabbage farmer, though his primary skill in both occupations is concocting new ways of making his own alcoholic beverages. When he poisons an old man on the cabbage farm (whether or not it's accidental is up to the viewer to decide), he flees the farm and stows away on a yacht for the evening. As fate would have it, this yacht belongs to Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), the leader of group called "The Cause". 

Lancaster sees something in Freddie and decides to take him on as his protégé. For whatever reason, Freddie doesn't run away from him, and yet again, the reasons are left up to us to decide. There's a connection between these two men, one that is so powerful, Lancaster's wife, Peggy (played with understated intimidation by the brilliant Amy Adams), takes notice and becomes visibly jealous the longer Freddie stays with The Cause. 

One of the many theories out there posit that The Master, more than anything else, is a love story between these two men, and to an extent, it is. Lancaster seems more aware and comfortable with his feelings for Freddie, whereas Freddie is a puzzle. You can't help but wonder if he's aware of those feelings and playing him for a fool, or if he's just too stupid to realize it. Thus, the question of who the master is shifts back and forth between these two characters, even though Lancaster is mostly referred to as Master by his followers. 

Freddie doesn't seem to need a world with rules and regulations. He doesn't fit in with society and could very much qualify as his own distinct breed of human. Yet Phoenix plays him so perfectly that you cannot help but wonder if he truly is the Master of his world, everything he does being a calculated choice in manipulating Lancaster to reveal himself as a fraud. Or maybe, Lancaster is the master manipulator, though much more overtly than Freddie. He has a following, a commanding presence, and most importantly, the power of persuasion. 

Anderson succeeds in making a movie that is open to a variety of interpretations. and his attention to period detail (it takes place in 1950) and visual composition are breathtaking. Shooting mostly in close-up only further illicits that sinister feeling in the audience that conveys something bad will happen. It's claustrophobic, jarring and very effective. Setting it in 1950 makes the film feel otherworldly all together, as this is a 1950 we've never seen before and one that could only come to life through Anderson's lens. Assisting him perfectly, as far as the tone of the film is concerned, is the eerie score provided by Jonny Greenwood. If there's one thing that stays in your head leaving the theater, it's the music heard throughout the film, more twisted than Freddie himself. 

In other words, The Master is different. It's unique in almost every way, yet somehow a lesser achievement when compared to Anderson's previous work. The pacing is off, the length of the film becomes problematic when the last chunk of the film feels unnecessary, and the shift in focus between both men doesn't fully work. Despite these flaws, however, The Master succeeds on its own terms. While it may not be Anderson's masterpiece, it's certainly unlike anything else you're likely to see all year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Searching For Sugar Man ★★★★

A Detroit Musician Brought Back To Life By Two Loving Fans

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

It's safe to say that movies showcasing the talent that the city of Detroit has to offer are few and far between. It's a city I'm associated with as a result of my Michigan location and is often the butt of every joke. Every now and then, however, Detroit is recognized as a place where many true originals came from, a point exemplified in the terrific documentary, Searching For Sugar Man.

A Detroit musician named Sixto Rodriguez recorded two albums (Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming From Reality in 1971) that did absolutely no business in the U.S. His voice was reminiscent of Bob Dylan, his music had a very Led Zeppelin feel to it, and his lyrics were truly original. What's astounding is that while these albums failed here, Rodriguez was more famous than Elvis in South Africa due his anti-establishment lyrics during the Apartheid - and he never knew about it.

After the failure of his two albums in the U.S., no one knew what became of him, which eventually resulted in two of his biggest fans from Cape Town, Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, trying to find out the rest of Rodriguez's story. Searching For Sugar Man unfolds almost like a detective story, drawing you in with every new detail as the film progresses, and is absolutely brilliant as a result. The efforts of these two men, combined with other music journalists and old record producers, is truly fascinating to watch; a lesson in the merits of great research combined with outstanding storytelling technique.

This documentary, like Rodriguez himself, is a hidden gem among the many great films 2012 has offered so far. It's an amazing look inside the world of the 1970's music industry, as we see the producers who championed Rodriguez as an original artist, and some who didn't really care what became of him because of the popularity of other bands at that time. It is also a commentary about the realities of living in Detroit by showing the detail of urban decay throughout areas of the city and, in particular, the stories family members tell about Rodriguez's life in Motown.

More than anything this is a documentary about hope, redemption and rebirth as it pertains to one man's omission from music history and the recognition he eventually received as the result of two fans who were inspired by the lyrics he wrote. At the time, Rodriguez was a symbol of hope for the African nation divided by prejudice and censorship. Rodriguez himself was cast aside for similar reasons in a way, somehow viewed as less than other talents of the time, even though, as you'll no doubt learn seeing this film, he's more original than all of them.

Rodriguez's story is very much the story of Detroit itself. A city forgotten and looked down upon by others, yet capable of producing original talent. I'm glad Rodriguez finally got the fame he always deserved but never expected, nor wanted. One day, Detroit may be as lucky as Rodriguez.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rise Of The Guardians ★

Seeing Isn't Believing

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

A large amount of the joy I receive from the best of animated features comes from the fact that they all manage to bring something human to a story that, to the naked eye, seems like it's from a different world all together. Most recently, Wreck-It Ralph was set in the world of video games, yet anyone who saw the film probably recognized a version of themselves or someone they knew in at least one character. It's the heart of films like that and many others that make us love the possibilities animation offers. The worst in animation however, trades heart for technology, a fault that the new film Rise Of The Guardians has in spades.

The problem with Guardians is that it's all visual spectacle and very little story. Director Peter Ramsey seems like he's only interested in the freedom animation offers, delivering sweeping shots over rooftops during the film's many, many action sequences, and never allowing the camera to stay stationary for a moment's breath. What little story there is involves Jack Frost (Chris Pine) being chosen to help the other Guardians - North (Alec Baldwin), Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman), Tooth (Isla Fisher) and Sandy, or, as they're all more commonly known, Santa, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy and Sandman - defend themselves against Pitch, otherwise known as The Boogeyman who's voiced by Jude Law. Pitch has found a way to bring terror and nightmares back into the minds of children, growing more powerful with every success. His goal is to rob children of their belief in all of these characters thereby taking away the Guardians' power and being free to corrupt the world.

It's an easy enough plot to get behind and not much more than that. Sure, they throw in Jack's identity crisis (he can't remember who he was before he became Jack Frost) and forcibly try to make his story the one we're interested in, but he's the weakest character of the bunch. And by weak, I mean both in character development and animation. One could argue that it was the animators' point to make Jack so inhuman, as he's not even believed in by any of the children, but the animation is so lifeless that it just looks lazy. Whereas the other characters in the story, particularly North, have such grandiose features it's a shame they were not part of a better movie.

What Rise Of The Guardians ends up feeling like is the collision of too many ideas that do not fit together at all. I get that each of the Guardians come from different worlds and therefore need their own distinct look, but it seems as though attention and favoritism was paid to the characters the filmmaker's felt they could have the most fun with, in this case, North. His design and features look gorgeous, and the detail of the North Pole is different than most are used to seeing - one amusing difference is that Yetis make the toys, not the elves because well, they're not right in the head. Pitch meanwhile looks like something out of the art-deco era (which I actually didn't mind, except for the fact that it doesn't work within the film) and Bunnymund just looks like a standard Rabbit.

I don't think Ramsey was the best choice of a director for a movie like this (it's also his first feature) mainly due to the fact that Guardians seems directionless. There are simply too many separate ideas about the animation going on for the story to function well. The designs for all of the characters are so separate that they don't work in the same movie. I feel especially bad for Jack Frost, given that the premise is supposed to be all about him, yet Ramsey and Co. seem awfully uninterested in him. It's no wonder the children don't believe in him; the filmmakers don't either.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Remodeling The Moviegoing Experience

Waiting For A Movie? Enjoy Some Coffee!

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando and David Hall

The smell of fresh popcorn, the look of a beautiful print displayed on the screen, the sound of whispers as everyone quiets down, the feel of the seats as you recline, and the taste of sweet fountain pop are all part of the movie going experience. The quality of these components has an effect on our overall enjoyment of a particular film.

The theaters that offer the most unique spin on this experience are usually the independent ones; the ones that, for whatever reason, have managed to stay alive in an era of mainstream movie houses where foreign and independent cinema are virtually unheard of. The Maple Theater, located in Bloomfield Hills, is not only a great venue for seeing quality films, but one that is changing the definition of a night at the movies.

The Maple reopened a few weeks ago after months of renovations and Jon Goldstein, the theater owner, is bringing his own unique perspective to quality. “I hired designers that were more familiar with restaurant spaces. This was the best choice I could have made as they brought an entirely unique point of view to the renovations,” Goldstein said.

Great Lakes Coffee
True to his word, when you walk into The Maple, what you see is something very modern - Great Lakes Coffee equipped with many tables and a few leather chairs for patrons to relax in before seeing a film. There’s even a bar section near the middle of the theater where people can feel free to unwind.

“We are aiming to celebrate the movie theater as a medium all its own,” Communications Director Jeremy Mills said. ”We hope movie lovers will realize how much we care about their experience and that we will continue to tweak and perfect the viewer experience as tastes and technology progress.”

This kind of attention to detail is something that too many theaters lack, making The Maple’s reopening that much more appreciated. Owning an independent theater in today’s economy isn’t easy, especially with a Midwest location, which restricts the number of movies a theater like The Maple may obtain.

Wall of Cameras Located in The Theater Lobby
“We are at a bit of a disadvantage, but New York and L.A. are really the testing grounds for art product,” Goldstein said, adding that his issue “is not that they get them first, but that much of the reviews and info about these movies happen when the movies starts. By the time we get the films there is no marketing support that let's people know they are playing.”

To combat the lack of availability of certain movies, The Maple successfully made the transition to digital projectors – a switch that many independent theaters cannot afford, forcing them out of business. However, The Maple is still at a particular disadvantage because of their previous owner, Landmark, the Los Angeles-based movie chain that currently owns one of the biggest competitors of The Maple, The Main Art Theater in Royal Oak.

“They refuse to allow us to play any movie they book. We have an open policy and are happy to compete with anyone and everyone. Landmark uses their buying power as the largest exhibitor of independent and foreign film to block other theaters from showing titles. I think it is a short sighted and crappy business practice as we enter the digital age,” Goldstein said.

An Updated Marque 
Regardless of Landmark’s restrictions and the Mid-western location, Goldstein remains as optimistic as ever. The care he and all of the employees have for not only the movies themselves but the experience the theater offers them sets The Maple apart from virtually every other theater in the area. This is a theater that’s run by a lover of movies.

The decision could have been made to simply let The Maple continue to deteriorate, but instead Goldstein chose to resurrect it because he knows the value of independent cinema. His aim is to show films that are “good” but also balancing it out with a little bit of everything, which includes mainstream films as well.

When we see a great movie, we’re giddy with excitement. When we remember a particular theater because of the experience it alone offers, it’s something truly magical. Thankfully, The Maple Theater has brought back the wonder and excitement of going to the movies.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Skyfall ★★★★

The Classic Bond We've Come To Know And Love; A Perfect Film In Every Way

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

If Casino Royale blew your mind as a result of its greatness and Quantum of Solace left you questioning whether or not the James Bond series was headed in a downward spiral, alas, Skyfall trumps both films.

I loved Casino Royale. It reinvented a classic character we have come to know and love over the years and it did it well. Daniel Craig as James Bond is, for me, the best choice for a role like this. I know all of the Sean Connery lovers are preparing their angry comments as they read this, but Craig brings everything you would want to the role and then some: He is well-educated, a brutal killing machine, suave with women, in peak physical condition, has a great sense of humor, and most importantly, he's a human being, as opposed to just another iconic movie character. Casino Royale also set tragic events in motion that would ultimately be resolved in the lesser received Quantum of Solace, making Quantum the first true sequel in the entire Bond franchise. Even though that second film has it's faults, it also successfully established Bond as a man vulnerable to pain, as opposed to someone without feeling or remorse. While that aspect of it worked, the rest of the film was just okay, when it should have been great. Skyfall on the other hand is magnificent, largely because it reintroduces the character with a completely new story and thus frees it from the baggage of the previous installments.

Sam Mendes takes over the directing duties this time around, resulting in the first Bond film that feels like it was made by a true fan of Bond movies. There are references to all the things we've come to know and love about a classic Bond film and none of them are distracting. They work beautifully within the context of Skyfall, and it feels like this rebooted series has finally hit its stride. On top of that, Mendes and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, choose a personal story involving both Bond and M's past, giving this film the heart that other Bond films lack. (Judi Dench, who plays M, does her best work in the series here.)

Bond's story relates to his broken state after being badly wounded in the film's opening. He's disheveled, bearded, addicted to pain killers and heavy liquor, but is reinstated by M after a three-month absence out of sheer desperation. That desperation is a result of a stolen hard drive containing the names of nearly every NATO field agent embedded in criminal organizations around the world. The man in possession of that hard drive is Raoul Silva, (Javier Bardem who reminds us what a great villain can do for a franchise), a former MI6 agent with a vendetta for M and a menacing demeanor about him.

Rounding out the cast are Ralph Fiennes as Garreth Mallory, M's boss; Naomie Harris as Eve, a fellow MI6 agent; Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine, Raoul's employee; and Ben Whishaw as Q, a brilliant piece of casting if you ask me. Each actor is great in their respective roles and every one of them a necessary part of the puzzle that Skyfall ends up being. It takes the characters and story in some unexpected directions, all of which lead to a resolution that is, quite honestly, perfect.

Enhancing everything great about Skyfall is the cinematography by Roger Deakins and the score by Thomas Newman. Deakins is most famous for shooting many of the Coen Brothers films, including No Country For Old Men (easily one of the greatest photographed films of all time) and most recently True Grit, but also for shooting other films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Each of those films were enhanced by Deakins' work and Skyfall is no exception. It's the most gorgeous looking Bond film of the entire series; beautiful, crisp, vivid, and astounding in its imagery. Newman's music enhances that imagery, giving us the most nostalgic score of any of the new films, a point seconded by film critic Michael Phillips in his video review of the film.

Everything works in Skyfall, making it not just a a great Bond picture but an overall terrific film that will be remembered for many years to come. Craig does some of his best work as an actor and Dench solidifies herself as the best M the series will ever have. It's thrilling, it's touching, and it's everything that audiences go to the movies for. Consider me wowed.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph ★★★★

A Lovable Animated Character of the 8-bit Kind

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Growing up, my console of choice was Sega Genesis and the game I spent countless hours trying to conquer was Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic and I were a great team until, of course, I accidentally made him jump onto a row of spikes or bash into a badnik, at which point we would start the level over. Eventually we would reach the third act of a level and be forced to defeat the maniacal Dr. Robotnik, thereby saving the helpless animals he had trapped in machines. I watched Robotnik explode thousands of times, never thinking that Robotnik may have grown tired of always being the bad guy and never getting the spotlight Sonic did. I should have been more considerate.

The writers of Wreck-It Ralph obviously had these concerns in mind while growing up, as this charming film is all about the existential crisis of Ralph (John C. Reilly), the title character and villain to a video game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., wherein Ralph breaks down buildings that Felix (Jack McBrayer) must repair in order to win the game. It's now the thirtieth anniversary of the game's release, and Ralph has had enough of the lonely life his role offers him. He wants to be the hero everyone roots for as opposed to the lug that other characters are afraid of. He's even in a villain support group (which includes Dr. Robotnik) because of his dilemma.

When Ralph decides he's had enough, he determines that the best way to be seen as a hero is to win a medal from one of the other arcade games. The game of his choice, as fate would have it, is a first-person shooter game called Hero's Duty, which involves destroying thousands of alien bugs. Things don't go as planned, and, by way of escape pod, Ralph lands in an entirely different game known as Sugar Rush, a racing game whose landscape is made up of so much candy and chocolate that I may have a cavity just from having seen this movie. From this point on, Ralph is on a quest for his medal, which is now lost in the abyss of Sugar Rush, while also trying to prove his heroism by helping out a glitch in Sugar Rush named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a 12-year-old who, like Ralph, is frowned upon for being different. Those differences are precisely what make these characters and the film itself so special.

At times, the idea of embracing one's uniqueness borders on being "too Disney" for older audiences like myself. But happily, Wreck-It Ralph has such a refreshing style and look about it that I found myself forgiving its hammer-over-the-head message and loving it for all that it is. That is, a film that has as much charm, joy and laughter as everything great that Pixar has ever created (Up, Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo, to name a few) and then some.

Part of that comes from the approach the filmmakers chose, which was making the world of a video games and the characters that inhabit them something to be taken seriously, but not too seriously. The screenplay by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee is so obviously personal that there's no way audiences can't relate to the material in some way. The director, Rich Moore, whose credits include episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama, understands comedy and uses that knowledge to the film's advantage. Any other director may have gone too far in one direction, but thankfully, Moore is the perfect choice to bring these characters to life.

Inhabiting those characters, in addition to Reilly, Silverman and McBrayer are Jane Lynch as Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, the leader of the characters in Hero's Duty and the object of Felix's desires, and Alan Tudyk, hilarious and incredibly creepy as King Candy, the leader and true villain of the movie. Each of these actors are cast perfectly, bringing something truly human to each of their characters, enlivening the comedy in every scene they are in.

In addition to the characters themselves, the animation is top-notch. Both the 8-bit and modern animation work perfectly together making the film feel nostalgic but also of its time. The colors are extremely vivid, especially in Sugar Rush, while the darker tones of Hero's Duty make it feel like you're actually in an Alien movie. Fix-It Felix, Jr., meanwhile, reminds me of another one of my favorite games, Rampage, in which monsters destroy dozens of city buildings.

Wreck-It Ralph is one of the surprising delights of the year and one audiences of all ages can enjoy. It also includes an animated short feature called Paperman, a brilliant, dialogue-free movie about a man who uses paper planes to get the attention of a woman he saw for only a moment on the morning train. It's a beautiful story, and one that works perfectly with Wreck-It Ralph's themes.

I think it's time that I play one of the Sonic games again, albeit with more consideration for Dr. Robotnik's feelings of being blown up by a hedgehog.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Flight ★★★★

A Journey Into The Complicated Life of an Alcoholic

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Robert Zemeckis is a director who has basically been forgotten for the last decade. After directing two very different but equally entertaining films in 2000 (What Lies Beneath and Cast Away), he moved away from live-action entirely and as a result fell out of favor with audiences and critics alike. Happily, Zemeckis has returned to live-action for at least one movie with Flight, a terrific film starring Denzel Washington as an airline pilot struggling with alcoholism.

In the film's opening scene, we're immediately reminded of what Zemeckis can bring to a project. He shoots most of the movie either in close-up or medium shots, creating a very claustrophobic atmosphere, especially in the scenes where Washington's character, Whip Whitaker, chooses drinking over sobriety. Zemeckis uses this same tactic for the plane crash sequence, using tight shots and the point-of-view perspective to truly make us feel as though we're with the passengers on that flight. It's both discomforting and powerful, achieving that gut reaction many of us felt when watching the plane crash in Cast Away.

What's brilliant on Zemeckis' part is that we feel the same sensation (that weightless, stomach-in-your-chest feeling that anyone who has experienced turbulence on an airplane knows about) every time Whip is near a bottle of alcohol. It's not knowing what he'll do next that cripples us, making it hard to watch when Whip can't control himself. Yet Whip, despite being deeply flawed and very unlikeable at times, is a character you root for, largely due to Washington's performance and his direction under Zemeckis. We feel the suspense because we feel for Whip, a trick that not just any actor or director could pull off.

The most rewarding aspect that many of Zemeckis' projects offer is his close attention to character. We all remember Marty McFly and Doc Brown, and can easily recite the musings of Forrest Gump, courtesy of Zemeckis' knack for developing rich characters. Here, Whip is just as memorable because of his struggles, rather than the quirkiness that defined the aforementioned characters. In other words, Zemeckis and Washington both know how to bring a character to life, instead of just another guy in a movie. We shouldn't like Whip, but we do.

He's a guy who saves the lives of close to one hundred passengers on a doomed flight out of Orlando, yet he uses his new-found heroism as just another excuse to drink. He's enabled by his drug-dealing best friend, Harling Mays (John Goodman, who oddly felt a little out of place in the film), and his bad habits are ignored by both his co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) and flight attendant, Margaret (Tamara Tunie). He's estranged from his wife and son, and his friend-with-benefits, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez), an alcoholic and drug abuser, dies during the plane crash saving a young boy's life. To put it simply, Whip has nothing and is going nowhere really fast.

We find hope for Whip, unexpectedly so, in a young woman named Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who has a heroin addiction and almost dies from an overdose. Her story runs parallel to Whip's, her overdose occurring roughly the same time the plane crashes. The two of them meet in the hospital and instantly bond, though for different reasons. Whip sees a similarly damaged soul and uses her as yet another excuse to drink. Meanwhile, Nicole recognizes her problem and actively tries to build a better life for herself. Upon witnessing Whip's abuse of alcohol, she tries to help him, becoming the mirror held up to Whip's face; the image of the person he could be if he admitted to his addiction.

It's fascinating that Zemeckis and Washington don't shy away from the darkness of the story; they relish in it. There are many uncomfortable moments, scenes of heartbreak and betrayal, and somehow by the time the credits roll, there's a sense of hope and relief. This has been a major criticism of the film, it's "happy ending" somehow feels unearned to many critics. I find the ending to be peaceful rather than happy, dark enough to match with the tone the film establishes in its opening.

Flight is the perfect marriage of an actor and director working together to create a great movie and a powerful character. I, for one, am glad to see that Zemeckis has not lost his touch.