Dave’s Cinema Digest 2012 – Week 45

Flight (2012)

Denzel Washington is an alcoholic. I mean, Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic airplane captain named Whip. He wakes after a hot night of boozing, drugging, and sexing with a plane to fly. While in the air, the plane suddenly malfunctions, sending the it into a dive. With miraculous skill, he is able to land the plane but not without some casualties. Now the accident and Whip himself are under investigation to determine if it was the plane or the captain that is at fault.

Flight’s first act is incredible. Denzel is in great form (and remains so throughout) and the crash is intense. The film manages to hang on for a while (mostly due to Denzel’s performance) but by the third act the movie, much like the plane in the beginning, comes crashing down. I can’t really go into specifics while avoiding spoilers but the tone shifts wildly to comedy at an incredibly inopportune time and a certain character who plays a major role in the first half of the film disappears without resolution, giving the character a sense of worthlessness. Finally (and still no spoilers), I simply wasn’t convinced by Whip’s decision at the end of the film. Great takeoff, horrible landing.

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Frankenweenie (2012)

Young Vincent and his dog Sparky are an inseparable pair. They make movies together, play games together, perform science experiments together. Unfortunately, Sparky is hit by a car and dies. Vincent, unwilling to let his beloved pet go, decides to reanimate the dog, Frankenstein style.

This film charmed my socks off. It has a whimsically macabre aesthetic that I loved, the voice actors are all hilarious, and the black and white cinematography looks fantastic. It’s got a lot of humor and for the first time in a long time, it feels like Tim Burton actually has his heart in it. The film is a tribute to both horror films of the 50’s and to the wonder of science. The importance of science is a big theme and the film awkwardly grinds to a halt at one point in order to make sure you get that message but I didn’t mind that so much. What I did mind was at the very end where Burton and writer John August lose their nerve and take a step back from the edge, in the process, invalidating what could have been a very touching and important life (and death) lesson for kids. In spite of this, the film is still a lot of fun and worth seeing for fans of stop-motion and/or Tim Burton.

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ParaNorman (2012)

Norman can see and talk to ghosts. Because of his special ability, he is thought of as a weird kid not only by those at school but even by his family. One day his uncle, who can also see and talk to ghosts, tells Norman that only he can save the town from the dead who will rise at sundown unless he reads to them from a special book. Shenanigans ensue.

This film came completely out of left field for me. I knew practically nothing about it going in and practically from the get-go, I was in love. I can’t think of enough good things to say about this. It’s hilarious, scary, progressive, smart, and gorgeous. Like Frankenweenie, this film has plenty of homages to horror films but this one focuses more on the films of the 70’s. And unlike Frankenweenie‘s sometimes clumsy preaching, ParaNorman weaves it’s very touching and poignant message into the story incredibly well. I left the theater eager to see this one again and I know I’ll be seeing it many more times when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

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Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall hits the ground running with a classic James Bond opening action sequence. Bond is after a man who’s stolen a hard drive containing a list of undercover agents. Judi Dench‘s M makes a tough call that gets Bond shot and presumably killed. Unfortunately, the baddie gets away. Cut to three months later, Bond is enjoying being dead but is compelled to return when MI6 and M herself are under attack from a mysterious terrorist who seems to have a personal vendetta.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Bond series until Daniel Craig stepped in for Casino Royale but I’ve seen more than a handful of the old films so I know all the old tropes. Here, director Sam Mendes and screenwriter John Logan bring all the best of the old and the new Bond into this one and it works gloriously. The primary concerns for this film are thematic but it still makes plenty of time for kick-ass action, puns and a dastardly villain played by the scene-stealing Javier Bardem. It would be criminal not mention the masterful cinematography of Roger Deakins whose work in this film I would put against any film this year. Now, despite the greatness of Casino Royale and 21 other films to choose from in the series, there are a number of people calling this the best Bond film of them all. Count me among them.

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Excision (2012)

Normally this would be the place where I give a summary of the plot. I can’t do it with this one. It’s really hard to summarize something that doesn’t exist. Instead of a plot, the movie is just a series of cliches, over-written dialogue, and deliberately provocative material. This movie wants so very much to be provocative. How much? This movie contains things like sniffing a used tampon, going down on a girl who’s having her period, pseudo-surrealistic dreams filled with gore and nudity, and the most blatant stunt casting ever; former porn star Traci Lords, John Waters, Malcolm McDowell, and Marlee Matlin all put in appearances. When it’s not being provocative  the film just parades around every struggling family trope you can think of. You know what, I’m really sick and tired of the cinematic family units that consist of the rebellious outsider; the do-gooder sibling; the religious, domineering mother; and the spineless, idiot father. No such luck getting away from that over-worn trope here. Writer/Director Richard Bates Jr. is very obviously influenced by both Alejandro Jodorowsky and Wes Anderson but in the worst way possible. The film’s got bright colors, super symmetrical framing, even a character walking down a school hallway in slow motion. But none of that makes this film anywhere near the quality of either of their films. In fact, I really wish I’d watched one of their films instead of this one. That would have been infinitely better.

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