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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Savannah Film Festival: Chapter 2

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 4:20 PM

(For Chapter 1, go here.)

Now here’s a sign after my own heart:

savloaf.JPG
  • Photo by Natalie Joy Howard

Alas, all creative loafing would have to wait, since the 15th Annual Savannah Film Festival was beckoning with its cinematic siren song. Here, then, are the first couple of films I caught at the event.

Silver Linings Playbook — Writer-director David O. Russell, who makes decent movies when he’s not being a complete jerk behind the camera (his temper tantrums with Lily Tomlin and George Clooney are well-documented, with the former skirmish captured for immortality on YouTube), follows The Fighter with this disarming seriocomedy about Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a former teacher who’s been released after a stint in a mental facility. Pat lost it after catching his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) in the shower with a fellow instructor, and no one’s quite sure if he’s really ready to be back in the real world again. His dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), suffers from OCD, resulting in a prickly relationship between the pair. Pat eventually meets someone who’s apparently as off-kilter as himself: Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who’s had her own share of mood swings ever since the death of her husband. Adapted by Russell from Matthew Quick’s novel, Silver Linings Playbook easily overcomes its familiar beats (a sports brawl, a missed appointment, a climactic competition) thanks to a real attention to character detail, a nonjudgmental approach to all the flaws plaguing the players, and a cast that works beautifully together. Chris Tucker, who’s appeared in nothing but Rush Hour movies for the past 15 years, is a welcome addition as Pat’s buddy from his institution days, while De Niro’s late-career mugging actually works for a character who spends every moment fretting over the Philadelphia Eagles. Cooper’s fine as well, although it’s Lawrence who explodes off the screen. Already an Oscar nominee for Winter’s Bone and a franchise star due to both The Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class, she’s likewise solid gold in Silver.

Review of Flight after the jump.

Flight — Some actors, like Harrison Ford, excel at playing straightforward heroes. Others, like Brad Pitt, soar when playing protagonists with dark shadings. And then there’s Denzel Washington, who’s equally adept at portraying both. In Flight, director Robert Zemeckis’ first film in 12 years that isn’t (thank God) one of those motion-capture endeavors (see his awful A Christmas Carol adaptation starring Jim Carrey), Washington’s character of “Whip” Whitaker is seen in the early going snorting a line of coke and drinking booze as if it were Gatorade. Hey, to each his own ... except for the minor fact that Whitaker is a commercial pilot, and on this particular morning he’s set to commandeer a plane from Orlando to Atlanta. But Whitaker is nothing if not functional while under the influence, and when disaster strikes (in a brilliantly staged sequence), he’s able to save most (but not all) of the 100-plus people on board. Yet while the media initially pegs him as a hero a la Capt. Sully Sullenberger, there’s the troubling behind-the-scenes matter of a revealing toxicology report. Written by John Gatins, Flight depends almost entirely on Washington’s central performance, since the movie emerges as less a drama about an airplane crash and more a character study about a man who won’t admit his problems to anyone, including himself. The subplot involving Whitaker’s relationship with a fellow substance abuser (Kelly Reilly) starts out well but never comes to a boil, and the scenes opposite his ex-wife (Garcelle Beauvais) and teenage son (Justin Martin) are too brief to make the necessary impact. But when Gatins stays focused on Whitaker’s legal quandary, the film remains compelling, with nice turns by Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood as two of the only people in the pilot’s corner. And then there’s John Goodman as Harling Mays, a boisterous sort (he travels with his own personal theme song: The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”) who’s not only Whitaker’s best friend but also his provider and enabler. The moral ramifications of such a character is completely brushed aside in order to allow Goodman to provide the requisite comic relief (which he does). Still, while Gatins pulls a punch here, he comes out swinging for the rest of the picture. So does Washington, once again performing at a dizzying altitude.

(The screening of Flight was accompanied by appearances from John Goodman, who received the festival’s Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award, and John Gatins, who was honored with its Spotlight Award.)

(The Savannah Film Festival continues through Nov. 3. Full details here.)

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