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Film Thoughts: Flight (2012)

by Jamie Downes

Director – Robert Zemeckis

Stars – Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly

Genre – Drama

Length – 138 min

If an airline pilot is under the influence of drink and drugs when his plane suffers a catastrophic technical failure of which he has no control, but uses his professional prowess to miraculously save the lives of over a hundred passengers, is he a hero?

Such is the question that Robert Zemeckis’s film about an alcoholic pilot could, and arguably should have pondered, no doubt instigating heated debate amongst audiences in the process. Instead, Flight is a more personal narrative, that while frequently gripping, is often too focused on driving home the destruction caused by an already established addiction, rather than intelligently exploring the impact of the incident itself.

Flight resides in a fittingly dark space for the most part, but at times, it’s as if those involved in developing the story relied too heavily on booze themselves, with the inclusion of John Goodman’s eccentric drug-dealer threatening to turn the film into something resembling a semi-serious British underground flick, the like of which generally star Vinnie Jones. An apparent attempt at comic relief, Goodman only serves to break immersion and soil the serious tone present in his – thankfully, commonplace – absence; supporting actress Kelly Reilly’s visit to her drug supplier on the set of an adult-movie early in proceedings, another bawdy and unfunny attempt at humour that not only doesn’t fit with the scenes around it, but also demonstrates a complete disregard for subtlety. It must be said that this ‘in-your-face’ attitude isn’t just confined to the jarring comedic endeavours either, with the film not averse to bludgeoning its message home rather than carefully timing its power-punches for the greatest impact.

Flight is saved from crashing and burning however, by the talents of its lead. The Man – Denzel Washington, if you prefer – carries the film with the kind of assured and believable performance one expects from him, his unlikeable alcoholic offering just enough heart to make the audience always cling to hope for eventual redemption, even if the thread they hold becomes dangerously taut at times. Reilly also deserves a mention. While this wasn’t her story, the actress’s fine portrayal of a vulnerable alcohol and heroin addict attempting to get clean in the face of temptation and provocation deserved greater respect than the script eventually gives; her casting aside from the story told, certainly too premature.

While far from perfect, if you can ignore the forced, unwelcome attempts at humour and heavy-handed direction, and forgive the missed opportunity to more assuredly split opinion on a fascinating moral dilemma, Flight is still a good film. The shame of it is, that it could have been a great one.

Rating: 3 / 5

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Film Thoughts – Case 39

by Jamie Downes

case 39

Director – Christian Alvart

Cast – Renée Zellweger, Ian McShane, Jodelle Ferland

Genre – Psychological Horror

Released – 2009

Synopsis – A social worker’s bond with a young girl has more horrific consequences than she could ever have imagined.

It may be severely lacking in the originality department, but Case 39’s tried-and-tested formula certainly doesn’t prevent the film from dragging you in and holding your attention right until its exhilarating, breathless finale. That it does so despite the orthodox story is testament to the direction and production, not to mention a feather in the cap of the key players in performance; Jodelle Ferland startlingly believable as the sweet, vulnerable girl capable of igniting each and every one of your nightmares. For a horror movie to really hit its mark, it must make you care about those in distress, and Case 39 does so with aplomb, at certain points, even when you know you shouldn’t.

Film Thoughts – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

by Jamie Downes

thebestexoticmarigoldhotel

Director – John Madden

Cast – Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel

Genre – Drama, Comedy

Released – 2011

Synopsis – A group of retirees outsource their later years to India, taking residence at a lavishly advertised hotel, where the reality is rather less glamorous.

The titular Best Exotic Marigold Hotel lacks luxury, comfort and sometimes even doors, but its gentle spirit is kept alive by a kindred heart that beats only to provide its ageing residents with enjoyment in the present, and hope for the future. The film itself is much the same – not the slightest bit flashy, but through a carefully weighted mixture of laughter and sentimentality, it celebrates the possibilities of life, no matter ones age. The likes of Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson provide the acting power and drama, but John Madden’s brilliantly assembled cast are dropped off in what proves to be a terrific haven for dry British humour; Bill Nighy’s henpecked husband and Dev Patel’s brazenly optimistic hotel owner the comedic stars. If you have a fervour for life, you should watch this film. If you haven’t, you should watch it too, because by the end, you might just have found one. Highly recommended.

Film Thoughts – Eleanor’s Secret

by Jamie Downes

Director – Dominique Monfery

Story & Screenplay – Anik Leray, Alexandre Reverend

Genre – Animation, Family, Fantasy

Released – 2009 (French with English dubbing)

Synopsis – A young boy must learn to read if he is to save the characters from the many children’s books read to him by his late Aunt.

“Alice always knew when she grew older she would still have the heart of a child.”

So reveals the titular character early on in Eleanor’s Secret. It’s a sentiment that too often gets almost hopelessly concealed amidst the expectations of everyday ‘adult’ life, but one that should never be discarded, as to do so would be a strange act of self-deprivation indeed. Yes, we all grow older by the second, but why should we not retain the spirit of our inner child? Why shut ourselves off from the wondrous things that life cannot offer but our imaginations can? Eleanor’s Secret is a film that exemplifies this line of questioning better than any of the CGI behemoths of modern day animation. What it lacked in budget, it comprehensively makes up for in the sweetness of its storytelling, which while Japanese-esque in its presentation, dispenses with the oddities and is purer as a result.

Final Thoughts

Underrated or ignored by many, Eleanor’s Secret is an exceptional story that should be revealed to fantasy-loving children and adults alike. It’s simple, heartfelt and lovingly easy to get lost in.

Film Thoughts – Cowboys & Aliens

by Jamie Downes

Director – Jon Favreau

Cast – Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

Genre – Action, Sci-Fi

Released – 2011

Synopsis – After aliens abduct several members of a wild western town, a group of cowboys head a rescue attempt to get them back.

If extremely pressed for time, labelling Cowboys & Aliens as pointless would be acceptable, although frankly, quite dishonest. Cowboys & Aliens is utterly, utterly pointless. Which is not entirely surprising of course, given that its title would look not a jot out of place on the Sci-Fi channel’s schedule of made-for-TV movies starring James Van Der Beek. Daniel Craig is in this though. So is Harrison Ford, basically playing an angry Indiana Jones reduced to a supporting role. Why either thought the premise of cowboys fighting aliens sounded worthy of their efforts is anyone’s guess. If they believed it would be so bad as to be fun they were sorely mistaken, as this is not a movie that cheekily pokes fun at either classic sci-fi flicks, or itself. Rather, it seems a genuine but painfully protracted attempt at a relatively sincere story, one told shockingly badly with more obvious plot points than an in-season allotment’s gigantism-suffering vegetable patch.

Final Thoughts

A concept this ridiculous cannot afford to take itself so seriously and expect to pull it off – not without a far superior script, at least. Utterly, utterly pointless.

Film Thoughts – Rio

by Jamie Downes

Director – Carlos Saldanha

Cast – Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jemaine Clement

Released – 2011

Despite an inevitably simple premise, the above-average humour, excellent animation and beautifully vibrant characters and locales allow this bird boasting adventure to sit comfortably aloft in the treetops, chattering at-length with Madagascar whilst staring up at only the most revered few of its kind. Perhaps of greatest importance to note, is that Rio is very much a family film and not a cheap and lazy, cringe-soaked kids flick. In other words, the laughs are generally well earned through good writing, planning and a willingness to be slightly daring with the material. Also, Nigel!

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but for those who enjoy animated family comedy, Rio will provide a carnival of fun with a terrifically malicious villain as its unlikely star.