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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 44
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Flying high
Zemeckis' latest is a soaring chronicle of addiction

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

FLIGHT
Opens November 2


Seasoned airline pilot William 'Whip' Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wasn't worried about his return flight to Atlanta. Sure, he was a little wasted, drugs and alcohol still in his system, and hiding that fact from rookie co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) and veteran flight attendant Margaret Thomason (Tamara Tunie) isn't easy. But when Whip comes up with a novel way to get the plane through some especially rough weather, easing the worries of passengers and co-workers alike, all is well.

Or so it seems. But just before they're scheduled to land, a catastrophic failure puts the plane in jeopardy again. Working off of pure instinct, Whitaker attempts a daring maneuver to regain control of the aircraft, averting a catastrophe in the middle of residential Atlanta. The plane does crash, but it does so in a relatively controlled way, and most of the 102 souls aboard survive.

From there, Oscar-winning auteur Robert Zemeckis' (Back to the Future) return to live-action filmmaking goes in a rather surprising direction. Flight isn't a conspiracy thriller, isn't about corporate malfeasance or anything even remotely sinister. It is, instead, something of a modern-day variation on Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend. Instead of an acclaimed writer in the throes of addiction we have a seemingly heroic pilot whose battle with alcohol and drugs leads him to wonder if his quick thinking and daring-do would even have been necessary had he begun the day sober.

HARD TRUTHS
For anyone who has known or worked with someone dealing with alcoholism and/or chemical addiction, John Gatins' (Real Steel) hard-hitting script rings with a brutally realized truth impossible to ignore. The journey Whitaker takes, as extreme as the situations circling around it might be, is as honest and as unflinching as they come, showing the highs and lows of alcohol abuse with striking authenticity. How the pilot deals with his situation, the way he chooses to tackle it, is both frustrating and heartbreaking, leading to the type of forcefully tearful denouement befitting the character's situation as well as his travails.

There are some small nits that can be picked. I get why actress Kelly Reilly's character - a fellow addict named Nicole who is coming to her own fork in the moral road - is here, but I'm not absolutely sure she's a necessity. There are times it feels like the only reason she exists is to literalize and verbalize many of Whitaker's thoughts and actions for the audience, making concrete what should probably remain a little bit ephemeral. She's good in the role, a fact I can't ignore, yet I just don't think her presence was required.

Then there is John Goodman. He appears three times in the movie, showing up as Whitaker's best friend and confidant, Harlan Mays. The guy is a ball of energy, an enthusiastic dynamo who adds a few laughs and a lot of electricity. But it also feels like he's in a completely different motion picture than everyone else, throwing me out of the story in a way that was entirely too noticeable. He's an overly theatrical creation of Gatins' imagination who never comes across as genuine or natural, which is something of a shame considering just about everything else in the story reeks of tragic emotional authenticity.

A MAGNIFICENT PERFORMANCE
Yet Flight connects, sometimes magnificently, in large part due to Washington's enthralling and multifaceted performance as a man on the edge of sanity dealing with an addictive personality pushing at every fiber of his being leading him to a cliff of personal devastation. There is nothing showy or inauthentic about what the actor does, the veteran two-time Academy Award-winner mining stunning interior territories. He doesn't hold back, doesn't give in, doesn't try to hide the traits that make Whitaker a potential monster but which also help him be a true hero. Washington is magnificent, plain and simple, and this is easily one of the greatest performances I've seen from an actor in all of 2012.

Zemeckis balances all of the elements present in the film with the same confident ease inherent in his past successes, including Cast Away, Contact, Romancing the Stone, and Used Cars. He may have toyed around with motion capture for a decade with the likes of The Polar Express and Beowulf, but that doesn't mean he lost a step where it comes to dealing with actors or delivering indelible real-life images onto the screen. The director makes a triumphant return to live action, reminding us all that his Oscar for Forrest Gump, love it or hate it, was hardly a fluke, and it's easy to imagine another Best Director nomination in his future.

Flight isn't easy, comfy, or relaxed. It doesn't offer up pat answers or the sort of melodramatic platitudes most viewers presumably would find appealing. Instead, the movie asks us to look inside ourselves in a way that is difficult yet revealing, showcasing truths that are both eye-opening and poignant. Here, the crash landing Captain Whitaker is part of is literal but it is also figurative, understanding that sometimes you have to hit rock-bottom if you're ever going to do what it takes to soar.


Inspiring AIDS documentary an awesome tale of heroism
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
Now showing


As an award-winning journalist, David France has been covering the AIDS crisis for 30 years. His work in LGBT community papers, The New York Times, Newsweek, GQ, and New York magazine has spoken for itself for over three decades, his connection to people and their stories practically one-of-a-kind.

So it only makes sense that his documentary debut, How to Survive a Plague, ends up being maybe the definitive chronicle of this epidemic as well as the grassroots community organizations that blossomed across the country in response to it. This is the story of the fight against AIDS, against political and social indifference, about corporate and public indifference. It is the story of a group of fighters who knew there was a problem but hadn't the first clue what the correct first step was going to be, their only security the knowledge that said step had to happen right away or any chance to have previously silent voices heard might be lost forever.

That might be a bit of hyperbole on my part, but not by much. France looks at the rise of organizations like ACT UP out of New York's Greenwich Village with a clear eye and without a heavy hand, using copious amounts of source material - videos, news footage, photos, news clippings, etc. - to tell his tale. He lets the voices of those involved in the fight speak for themselves, everything propelling forward in a way that is kinetically enthralling. The documentary almost becomes something like a real-world ticking-clock political thriller a la Argo or All the President's Men, the film a mesmerizing descent down the rabbit hole that would be unbelievable if it wasn't all 100-percent true.

The whole story is here. Playwright Larry Kramer's incendiary speech that led to the birth of ACT UP. The first appearance of the pink triangle coupled with the slogan 'Silence = Death.' The approval of AZT by the FDA and its subsequent release, the most expensive drug ever to hit the open market. President Ronald Reagan labeling the disease 'Public Enemy No. 1,' but only after 20,000 Americans had died. Teenage activist Ryan White's death from AIDS at the age of 18. The formation of the Treatment Action Group (TAG) in 1992. Magic Johnson's stunning announcement that he was/is HIV-positive.

France weaves all of this material together brilliantly, and hearing the voices of those who were there when it happened is borderline staggering. More so is the haunting, emotionally powerful coda, when the surviving members of this fight who we've been following for the entire film finally make an appearance. Seeing them now had an awesome, almost magisterial impact upon me. How to Survive a Plague isn't just a great documentary - it's a great movie, period. Without a doubt, France's debut is one of the more profoundly inspiring efforts I've seen this year.

For an exclusive interview with director David France, go to www.sgn.org.






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Politics done right
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Danger Mouse
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November concert preview
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Hot in the city
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Hard working diva
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Flying high
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Inspiring AIDS documentary an awesome tale of heroism
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Northwest News
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Letters
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