Sunday, September 25, 2016

OSCAR WATCH: Sully


Late in Clint Eastwood's new film "Sully", a hearing is being conducted to ascertain whether an emergency water landing carried out by the titular pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger could have been avoided. Using flight simulation technology, the inquiry board demonstrates that a safer landing at a nearby airport was possible. Sully argues that the simulation is faulty, as it removes the vital "human factor" from the high-stress situation. Similarly for Eastwood's depiction of this true story, the humanity involved before, during and after the unbelievable events prove to be essential to the film's questionable success.

Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Sully, a longtime pilot for US Airways with a wealth of experience. One day however, all his training will be put to the ultimate test, when a freak incident causes a routine flight to malfunction. While en route from LaGuardia Airport in New York to Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina, his plane hits a flock of geese, which disables both engines. With few options for a safe landing, he decides to trust his instincts and directs the plane towards a risky landing in the Hudson river. Miraculously, he pulls it off without any casualties. Sully is soon declared a hero by the public and the media alike. But with the significant financial losses incurred and pressure from the insurance company, an investigation begins to unfold to determine whether Sully should take the blame for irresponsible behavior.

Part delicate character study, part inspiring courtroom drama, "Sully" is a film often at odds with itself. Despite an intense opening scene depicting a horrific nightmare of a plane crash, Eastwood's direction is surprisingly restrained. For Tom Hanks, the approach comes as a blessing, allowing him to once again shed his former "aw shucks" persona for yet another deeply grounded portrayal. In what will surely place him in the Best Actor conversation, Hanks' performance is truly the film's anchor. Despite the glaring facial transformation, he manages to fully inhabit the role.

Unfortunately, the restraint hardly benefits the film otherwise. The predictable dialogue is delivered with such monotonous detachment that the film sometimes feels amateurish. And though the last act is considerably more engaging, the transition from Sully to the ultimate courtroom scenes lacks the tension that Hanks so effortlessly conveys. For a film that stresses the significance of human emotions in crisis situations, there's a disappointing lack of genuine human feeling in much of the acting.

Indeed, while Hanks gets to explore great the psychological depths associated with PTSD and the vulnerability of public scrutiny, the other main characters serve mainly as props for his journey. Laura Linney for example, is stuck with the laughably stereotypical "supporting wife" role, while Aaron Eckhart barely gets any showcase scenes despite being Sully's co-pilot who is also on trial.

By the time Hanks delivers what would likely be his Oscar clip, one gets the distinct sense of a film that doesn't know what it wants to be. In this climactic scene, he explains that it was the combined team effort of the flight crew, passengers, first responders and all of "New York's finest" which allowed for the plane's successful landing. But the dynamic ensemble drama he describes is far removed from the myopic biopic Eastwood delivers. Many may give Eastwood kudos for being able to deliver decent film at his age, with possible Best Picture and Best Director noms on the horizon. But for this fan of the prolific actor-director, "Sully" feels too much like Eastwood on autopilot, rather than taking full control of this fascinating true story.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

TIFF: Forever Pure & Girl Unbound


As is customary every four years, sports fans and casual viewers alike were glued to their TV screens this summer for the Olympic games. Throughout the 16-day event, the core Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence were on full display and celebrated worldwide. But as a pair of eye-opening sports documentaries prove, this ideal of sportsmanship is not always upheld.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: City of Tiny Lights


As the lines between TV and film are increasingly blurred, there’s no doubt that film directors have had to step up their game to draw in audiences. Particularly in the realm of gritty crime dramas, cinema has had to contend with outstanding work from small screen counterparts on cable and even network series. Indeed, films like Pete Travis‘ respectable neo-noir “City of Tiny Lights” face a tall order in trying to feel fresh.

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TIFF: Vaya & We Are Never Alone


When it comes to international film festivals, it’s almost a given that there will be at least one dark multi-narrative film among the lineup. This year’s Toronto International Film Festival was no exception. Hailing from two countries as vastly different as South Africa and the Czech Republic, respectively, directors Akin Omotoso and Petr Václav brought a pair of harrowing ensemble dramas.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Monday, September 12, 2016

TIFF: The Birth of a Nation


When Nate Parker‘s directorial debut “The Birth of a Nation” was announced as a Sundance selection, the knee-jerk reaction was to be expected. Many groaned that we didn’t need another “slavery film.” The concern was understandable, especially in a year that included “Underground” and “Roots” on TV. But as its Sundance reception showed, this passionate film captured an aspect of slavery that audiences needed to see.

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TIFF: Joe Cinque's Consolation


Disturbing, unsettling, infuriating. These are the adjectives that will likely come to mind in response to "Joe Cinque’s Consolation", the debut feature from director Sotiris Dounoukos. A misanthropist’s delight, this unflattering portrait of Australian society truly gets under the skin.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Lion


Over the next few months, we’ll be hearing the term "Oscar bait" a lot. Used as a pejorative for period dramas, biopics or anything that looks like old-fashioned storytelling, it can be both a blessing and a curse for late year releases. One such film already labeled with that tag is Garth Davis' "Lion", a heart-stirring adaptation based on an extraordinary true story. Indeed, this is a prestige film through and through. And it deserves all the awards attention it will likely get.

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TIFF: Death in Sarajevo


The more things change, the more they stay the same. This seems to be the overarching thesis guiding award-winning Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanović and his new film “Death in Sarajevo”. A cynical sociopolitical satire, this labored drama critiques the unsavory legacy of Europe’s checkered past.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Saturday, September 10, 2016

TIFF: A Monster Calls


After a summer movie season widely regarded as one of the worst in many years, many film lovers are understandably pessimistic about the future of the “popcorn flick”. The mainstream summer slate was almost universally criticized as vapid, noisy and simply lacking in “fun”, it reignited fears about the death of cinema. But of course, sometimes you just have to look harder to find gems in a constantly expanding international marketplace. And one such example is “A Monster Calls”, directed by Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona, which feels like an antidote to the curse that afflicted this year’s blockbusters.

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TIFF: Nocturnal Animals


It’s been a long time coming for fans of 2009’s “A Single Man”, the impressive debut feature that marked the arrival of an exciting new director in Tom Ford. But now, the wait is finally over and it was certainly worth it. Indeed, Ford makes a bold return to cinema with “Nocturnal Animals” a film that essentially offers two strong films for the price of one.

Read more at The Awards Circuit