John Goodman

Flight

flight_photo

2012

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Produced by Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parks, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey

Written by John Gatins

Denzel Washington is such a magnificent actor that’s easy to forget just how good he is because he does it on such a consistent basis. He’s one of the few actors that you actually have to rack your brain to come up with a movie where he turns in a bad performance. And just for the record, my choice for that would be 1990’s “Heart Condition” a truly wretched comedy he did with Bob Hoskins. And he excels at playing just about every kind of character you can think of but it’s really something to see him play William “Whip” Whitaker, an airplane pilot who consumes alcohol and cocaine in such quantities that’s it a wonder he can find the bathroom, much less fly a plane.

But in FLIGHT it’s exactly his drug and alcohol addiction that is at the core of the movie. Of course, Whip had no business getting on the plane while high. But would a sober pilot have taken the chance of flying a commercial airplane with 102 people on board upside down to bring it out of a dive? A dive that certainly would have killed everyone on board. Whip crash-lands the plane in a field. Six people are killed but still it is nothing less than a miracle that anybody at all was able to walk away from the plane. The movie raises the definitely controversial suggestion that it actually was Whip’s breakfast of vodka and cocaine pumping in his system that enabled him to pull off the unconventional maneuver.

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Whip is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, who performed a toxicology screen on him while he was unconscious in the hospital after the crash. Whip’s slick union lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) is positive he can get the toxicology report buried. If he can’t then Whip will find himself up on manslaughter charges. But there is an excellence chance that the cause of the crash was a malfunction in the plane’s structure itself. Of course it would help if Whip can stay sober until after his hearing so as not to give the press even the slightest suspicion that there’s anything wrong with him.

Good luck with that. Whip’s alcoholism actually gets worse even though his heroin addicted girlfriend Nicole (Kelly Reilly) is getting help recovering from her problem and she soon realizes that staying with Whip isn’t exactly good for her sobriety. Whip’s old friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) finally has to admit that Whip’s illness is far worse than he knew and absolutely beyond his control to deal with.

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Not that there isn’t a lot of blame to go around with the crash of SouthJet Flight 227.  The night before Whip and one of his flight attendants (Nadine Velazquez) partied it up with plenty of booze, coke and sex. The senior flight attendant Margaret (Tamara Tunie) knew that the both of them were high when they stepped on the plane and later on, Whip’s co-pilot Ken (Peter Gerety) admits to Whip that he called his wife to tell her that he was worried as he could smell the alcohol on Whip. But neither he nor Margaret said anything which makes them just as responsible if the NTSB finds that Whip was responsible for the plane’s crashing.

Whip Whitaker is the sort of role that an actor takes when they want to show that they can ACT and while Denzel Washington long ago proved that, I do see why he wanted this role. It’s wildly against the type of role we like to see Denzel in and after seeing this movie I understand why so many black women disliked the movie. They didn’t want to see an alcoholic, drug addicted Denzel Washington messin’ around with a heroin addicted white woman. They got enough on their hands dealing with brothers out here already doing that. In addition, Denzel isn’t his usual suave, handsome self. He plays an alcoholic mess and he truly does look the part. Although I wonder if a guy who gets as high as Whip does on a regular basis could hold down his job as long as he did without his problem being detected or affecting his job.

The supporting performances don’t really stand out as this is Denzel’s show all the way but I liked them all. John Goodman breezes in and out as Whip’s drug dealer, bringing dependable comic relief with him. Kelly Reilly is an actress I’m unfamiliar with but she does a capable job. Don Cheadle is a guy who is usually all high energy but not here. He’s calm and relaxed, even when he’s faced with such a train wreck of a client. The always wonderful-to-watch Melissa Leo shows up in a small but pivotal part at the end of the movie. And Bruce Greenwood is always a pleasure to watch.

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So should you see FLIGHT? If you’re a Denzel Washington fan you probably already have. It’s a movie I definitely wouldn’t have expected from director Robert Zemeckis as it’s a fearsomely dark movie which is most certainly not light entertainment. It’s an exploration of addiction at its most harrowing and out of control. It’s not a fun movie but it is an exceptionally well-made one and if you have a strong stomach, I recommend it highly.

Rated R

138 Minutes

Beyond The Sea

2004

Lion’s Gate Films

Produced by Jan Fantl, Andy Paterson and Kevin Spacey

Directed by Kevin Spacey

Written by Kevin Spacey and Lewis Colick

I think Bobby Darin’s version of “Mack The Knife” is one of the greatest songs ever recorded and it never fails to crack me up at the look on people’s faces when I tell them it’s a song about a serial killer.  Apparently a lot of people never really listen to the lyrics of a song, especially this one.  Mackie commits a whole lot of mayhem during the song and there’s even a couple of lyrics Bobby Darin left out of his version where Mack burns down an orphanage and rapes a underage girl.  It’s a song that is light, bouncy, extremely cheerful sounding but hides a lot of darkness.  Listening to “Mack The Knife” is like unwrapping a glittering, beautifully wrapped gift box and finding a decaying heart inside.

The movie biopic of Bobby Darin’s life, BEYOND THE SEA is also, light, bouncy, extremely cheerful.  It’s full of glitter and beautifully filmed.  But there’s no darkness to contrast the beauty.  In fact, as you watch BEYOND THE SEA you may get the feeling that you’re watching a less than objective examination of Bobby Darin’s life.  I’ve read that Kevin Spacey worships at the alter of Bobby Darin and spent 17 years trying to get this movie made.  And it shows.  It’s most definitely a vanity project and it’s not a bad one.  I just don’t think it’s an altogether honest one.

The movie starts out with Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey) on the set of a movie he’s making about his life.  He’s pissing off the crew and cast because he insists on take after take of the opening number.   A young boy pops up on the set.  Supposedly it’s the child actor (William Ullrich) who is playing Bobby Darin as a child but in a left turn the movie takes into fantasy, it turns out that this actually is the real young Bobby Darin who takes his older self on a journey through their mutual past as they attempt to understand and come to terms with their life.

We see how the young Bobby Darin suffered for much of his early life with rheumatic fever and his doctors didn’t expect him to live to see his 15th birthday.  Once his mother (Brenda Blethyn) introduces him to music, Bobby not only lives and thrives but goes on to a career in entertainment, assisted by his sister Nina (Caroline Aaron) her husband Charlie (Bob Hoskins) and his manager Steve Blauner (John Goodman) where he becomes a big hit with the teeny boppers with his first major hit; “Splish Splash”.

Now, the more perceptive of you who are familiar with my reviews may think that I rushed through an awful lot in the preceding paragraph.  Think of how I felt watching the movie.  It goes from the sickly Bobby Darin as a boy with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel to the adult Bobby Darin being a smash hit on ‘American Bandstand’ in the first half hour of the movie.  Considering the movie is nearly 2 hours long I was wondering what was going to fill up the rest of the running time.

I didn’t have to worry.  The rest of BEYOND THE SEA is mostly taken up with telling us what a great guy and what a brilliant performer Bobby Darin is.  Even though he’s described in some scenes as being ‘an arrogant asshole’ nobody in the movie really seems to mind all that much.  Nobody really argues with Bobby.  He never seems to have problems.  He marries Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) who was the hottest actress in Hollywood at that time.  His albums sell faster than hotcakes (how fast do hotcakes sell, anyway?) His club dates and concerts are standing room only.  Hollywood begs him to make movies.  He’s beloved by millions.  I was sitting watching the movie and waiting for Bobby Darin to roll back the rock and holla at Lazarus to come on out and play, as I was convinced it was going to happen sooner or later.

That’s the problem with BEYOND THE SEA.  Kevin Spacey is so in love with Bobby Darin that he obviously couldn’t bear to show us the dark side of the man or show us what struggles he certainly must have gone through during his career.  We understand why he was so driven to be a success since he considered every day to be a gift since he was supposed to have died as a child.  But if you go by the movie, Bobby Darin didn’t seem to have to work very hard for his success.  Or his relationships.  There’s a scene where he courts Sandra Dee with a lavish musical number and bingo, she ups and marries him.  Sandra Dee’s mother is violently opposed to the marriage but in virtually the very next scene, Moms is hanging out with Bobby and Sandra at home when their first child is born with no explanation of how they got from There to Here.

There’s a nice scene where Bobby throws a tantrum after losing out on the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor to Melvyn Douglas and Sandra Dee tells him quite sensibly that it took Douglas 40 years to get a nomination and it only took Bobby two and he should be happy with that.  But then the scene turns into a farce as both Bobby and Sandra get into a madcap chase as they try to beat each other in leaving the other first.  Yeah, I know how it sounds but that’s what happens.  We learn very little about Bobby’s relationship with his children other than he loves them very much and they love him (yawn) and there’s a major revelation in his life that causes him to write a stirring protest song against the war in Vietnam.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed to cheerful, happy movies and I’m glad that BEYOND THE SEA spared us the usual story arc that is standard operating procedure in a biopic of an entertainer.  But by presenting Bobby Darin as a near perfect icon with no flaws makes for some damn boring movie watching, I tell you what.  The most glaring example of this is when the movie takes time to show that Sandra Dee was an alcoholic but never shows us how Bobby dealt with it or indeed, how it was dealt with at all.  There’s a scene in Las Vegas when Bobby and Sandra talk about her drinking and Bobby makes a soulful plea for her to cut back on the booze and apparently she does so because the subject is never addressed again.  Hell, didn’t everybody back then drink to excess?  Maybe everybody except for Saint Bobby, I guess.

Maybe I’d better just concentrate on what I liked about the movie.  During its theatrical release there was a big deal made about how Kevin Spacey did his own singing in the movie and he even went on a nationwide tour with a full orchestra singing Bobby Darin songs.  And make no mistake: Kevin Spacey is a pretty good singer and he does a wonderful job of dancing in the movie’s several terrific musical numbers.  He’s no Sammy Davis, Jr. but he’s far better than you would expect him to be.  During the scenes where he performs at Las Vegas hotels you can see that Spacey would have been right at home hanging out with The Rat Pack.

Kate Bosworth has never impressed me with her acting and I think she’s horribly miscast as Sandra Dee (although not as horribly miscast as Gwen Stefani playing Jean Harlow in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator”) while John Goodman has very little to do as Bobby Darin’s Manager.  His role consists mainly of bringing Bobby good news: “I got you the Copacabana!” or “You’re playing The Flamingo in Vegas!” Bob Hoskins as Bobby Darin’s brother-in-law probably comes off as the best actor besides Spacey himself in this one.  They have a more complicated relationship than even the one Darin has with his wife.

So should you see BEYOND THE SEA?  I recommend the movie on the basis of how much you like Kevin Spacey as an actor.  Me, I’ve loved him ever since he showed up on the TV show ‘Wiseguy’ and if he didn’t do any other movies after ‘L.A. Confidential’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ he’d still be a genius as far as I’m concerned.  He does his usual great job of acting here but I think he should have turned the directing job over to someone else who would have been more objective.  I didn’t know much about Bobby Darin before watching this movie and after I finished I found myself not wanting to find out more.  Usually a biopic like “The Aviator” or “Ray” will lead me to dig deeper and learn more about the subject of the movie.  After two hours of Kevin Spacey trying to convince me how terrific and funny and brilliant and innovative and daring Bobby Darin was, I felt I knew all about the guy I wanted to.

118 minutes

Rated PG-13

Barton Fink

1991

20th Century Fox

Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Ethan and Joel Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen

Joel and Ethan Coen are quite simply masters at what they do; which is making entertaining movies that have a lot more going on than you see the first time. They’ve made some of my favorite films such as “Raising Arizona”, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, and the magnificent “Miller’s Crossing”, which is one of the best gangster movies ever made. If you haven’t seen any of their movies, you need to rectify that error and Netflix them.

BARTON FINK was written when the Brothers Coen suffered writer’s block while working on the screenplay for “Miller’s Crossing” and all I can say is this: if this is the kind of story they came up with when they were blocked, they oughta get blocked more often.

Barton Fink is a New York playwright enjoying success on Broadway with his latest play in the year 1941. His agent wrangles a deal for Barton to go work in Hollywood. Capital Studios is offering Barton $2,000 a week to write movies for them. And back in those days, $2,000 a week was a fortune. Barton doesn’t want to go but his agent wisely advises him that if he takes the deal, he can put food on his table and keep a roof over his head while Barton writes the stuff he really wants to write. Barton finally accepts and goes out to Hollywood where he takes a room in The Hotel Earle, a really odd establishment that seems to have only two employees; a decrepit elevator operator who appears to be nearly ossified and the cheerful desk clerk Chet (Steve Buscemi)

Barton immediately catches writer’s block since he’s never written a movie script before. Hell, he doesn’t even go to movies and his first assignment is to script a wrestling movie starring Wallace Beery. Barton seeks help from a variety of characters such as the alcoholic writer W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney) and producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shaloub)

Part of Barton’s problem is that his thinking too much is getting in the way of his job. You see, he claims he wants to write about the common man but he actually knows bupkis about his intended subject. This is pointed out in a series of scenes with the producer Ben Geisler who replies to Barton’s dilemma with exasperation: “What do you need to know? It’s a wrestling picture! It’s not  Hamlet!”

Geisler has a terrific scene where he takes Barton to lunch and advises him to talk to another writer and Barton asks where does he find a writer in Hollywood. Geisler replies with one of my Top Ten Favorite Lines Of All Time; “This town is lousy with ‘em…throw a rock and you’ll hit one. And do me a favor, Fink…when you throw that rock…throw it hard.” I watch Tony Shaloub in this movie and in “Monk” and it’s amazing to me that it’s the same actor playing these characters.

Barton has a next-door neighbor in the Hotel Earle, an insurance salesman named Charlie Meadows who tries to help Barton out with his writer’s block. Hell, Charlie figures that you can’t get more common man than him, but he soon finds that Barton is more interested in ranting about his own theories on what the common man wants than actually finding out what the common man thinks. The theme of Barton’s ignorance about what he thinks writing is supposed to be runs through the entire movie and is handled in some very funny scenes. There’s one in which Barton having a picnic with Mayhew and his secretary and Barton is spouting hyper-intellectual felgercarb about writing and how it’s this divine calling and he cannot separate himself from his art. Mayhew gives him this really pitying look and says;  “I just like making things up.”

But BARTON FINK isn’t just about a writer’s trials and tribulations in Hollywood. It’s also about a grisly, horrifying murder and a frightening revelation concerning the jovial, amiable Charlie Meadows that just may have infernal origins. If you’ve seen BARTON FINK then you know exactly what I’m talking about and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for those of you who haven’t. But at the same time BARTON FINK is also a very funny movie and sometimes you don’t know if you should be laughing or not. And indeed, there are scenes where Barton himself doesn’t know if he should be taking the people he’s talking to seriously or not.  Such as two police detectives who appear to take a perverse delight in the way they verbally ping-pong their interrogation of Barton back and forth like Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s On First?”

One of the fun things about this movie is that there’s always something new I see every time I view it (which is about once a year) and I delight in the performances of John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis and John Mahoney (who delivers the funniest rendition of ‘Old Black Joe’ I’ve ever heard) as well as the way the story is told. Jon Polito is also on hand playing the virtual slave of a fierce studio boss (Michael Lerner) And if anybody can figure out just what the final scene of the movie is about, email me and give a brother a clue, wouldja?

116 minutes
Barton Fink is rated R for language and mature themes. There’s no graphic sex in the movie and the implied violence is more grisly than any violence we actually see.