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Sully: The Most Concise Drama of the Year


I decided to go to my favorite movie theater with a visiting friend to see the Clint Eastwood’s new drama Sully starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, about the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson, you may remember this from the news.  Tom Hanks plays Captain Sullenberger — who, after taking off, experiences complete loss of power in his aircraft due to a bird strike and decides to ditch his plane in the Hudson River. He succeeds, which I hope is not a spoiler for anyone! The rest of the film deals with Sully enduring doubts about his actions in the subsequent NTSB investigation.

The main thought I have about Sully is that the movie is almost obsessively concise. The film starts with a dramatic worst-case scenario played out in Sully’s head during a dream.  The actual water landing is shown in a series of interlocking flashbacks with the drama of the investigation.  Tom Hanks delivers his performance as the embattled everyman and everyone else is there pretty much to support him or denigrate him in the course of the movie. The film has a clear A to B sort of structure. Sully lands the plane, is hailed as a hero, has doubts as the investigation progresses, we have some insights into his home life, there is a hearing where he exonerates himself. Then a joke by the dependable Aaron Eckhart (who plays his copilot) and the movie is over.

My friend joked that the movie was so concise because Clint Eastwood is getting older and does not want to sit through longer movies.  I think that actually might be the reason. The drama in the movie is mostly of the actual event which is quite an amazing and harrowing event. Captain Sullenberger is no doubt a hero. However I wish the movie had more meat on it. The movie plays more as a docudrama, which as a fan of history I really enjoy, but I think it left me wanting more. I feel the movie is a little handicapped by Eastwood and his commitment to show the heroism of his American subjects. I personally do believe his movies shows this heroism (like the controversial American Sniper, which I enjoyed) but I feel that sometimes the movie is less than it could have been. TE Lawrence was no doubt a hero, but a straight telling of his story would not have the artistry that the famed Lawrence of Arabia had (or its 3-hour runtime.)

“Sully” tells a good story because it’s true, but sometimes a story embellished can illuminate a hero even better than just the facts.  So I guess I’ll just have to watch Robert Zemecki’s Flight again to be satisfied. All in all I say this movie is worth the watch, but on home rental.

Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins.

Eye in the Sky

“Eye in the Sky” is about one of the oldest topics in art –the incredible cost of war – as well as one of the newest subjects under the sun:  our astonishingly increased ability to see and understand that cost.

One of our popular responses to warfare drone technology is that it makes taking the lives of other people far too removed from reality: piloting a drone from a dark room on a Las Vegas air force base doesn’t look very different from playing a video game in a dark basement in a Las Vegas suburb. Shooting real people looks and feels more and more like shooting monsters on a TV screen.  But “Eye in the Sky” highlights a different side of the same situation.  It is far easier to pull the trigger on the battlefield, when the enemy is trying to kill you. The action is easily justified. But from a thousand miles away, in no danger at all, perhaps it is much more difficult, knowing that you are taking lives while, at that moment no one is trying to take yours.  What is abundantly clear is that any action a soldier takes is going to be endlessly scrutinized; by superiors, by politicians, and likely also by journalists and/or newsertainment anchors, and often by anyone with a YouTube account.  How has this vastly increased level of scrutiny changed the way we engage in warfare?


Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

The Magnificent Seven: Magnificent Casting

Antoine Fuqua has remade “The Magnificent Seven,” which itself was a remake of the classic “Seven Samurai,” which in turn was inspired by John Ford westerns. It’s the story of a town and its citizens who are being terrorized by a robber baron who wants their land. After a massacre in their town they hire gunmen to protect them. They find their seven champions in Warrant Officer Sam Chisholm, (Denzel Washington) Cavalier gambler Joshua Faraday, (Chris Pratt) Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux, (Ethan Hawke) assassin Billy Rock, (Byung-Hun Lee) tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’onofrio) vaquero outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia Rulfo) and a comanche warrior, Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier.) It is up to these fighters to defend the town from an army of bad guys hired by the villainous Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard.)


Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins.

Midnight Special

Jeff Nichols is one of my favorite currently working directors.  His latest film, “Midnight Special,” is a sci fi thriller, and also a chase flick, and, underneath, a film about family bonds.

It opens with a kidnapping: Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton and a special little boy are on the run, both from a fundamentalist cult and the FBI in a primer-gray muscle car. As the story unfolds, we learn more about this boy’s special abilities, and about why the trio are running, and where they’re trying to go.

The film doesn’t waste much time explaining things. The pace is breathless, as our heroes have little or no time to stop and rest, or talk about everything that’s happening.  It’s all happening too fast for them, and really, for us as well. At some point, you either get frustrated with everything that remains unexplained, or you just go along for the ride, or both.


Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Great Movies Roundtable: The Last Picture Show

#95 on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition is Peter Bogdonavich’s “The Last Picture Show.”

WK: Set in a tiny, windswept and dust-blown Texas town, “The Last Picture Show is a sad movie about sad people. At its center are a group of teenagers who haven’t yet realized just how limited their options are in a place like this. Their parents and teachers now, among them Sam the Lion, who runs the pool hall and picture show.  There’s also the waitress at the local diner, Jacy’s mother, for whom fooling around is nothing more than a way to pass the time, and the coach’s wife, who maybe hasn’t yet resigned herself to this life, and thsu is still able to have her heart broken.  I’m not sure even that option is available for the other adults.

The high schoolers are Jeff Bridges, Cybil Shepherd, and Timothy Bottoms. Bridges and Shepherd are the best-looking and most popular kids at high school, so naturally they’re dating, since high school relationships are more about social climbing than compatibility. Sad-eyed Bottoms would like to be dating Shepherd, but ends up involved with a much older woman.

CRH: The most interesting thing about The Last Picture Show is that it tells a story in Texas during the so-called filthy fifties. This was the time of severe economic recession. It was kind of a little Great Depression if you were still stuck in that part of the country. I think this is a very Texas story. The transition between the old west past and its zeal and purpose and the modern age with all its malaise and loss of meaning. I think the context is important in understanding the story. At the beginning of the seventies there was the beginnings of a nostalgia for the 1950s, but “The Last Picture Show” flies right in the face of that. I think this is actually one of the only fifties movies I’ve seen which is a real downer. I kind of like it.

General thoughts

CRH: I think the thing that really struck me about this movie is how sad it is. It’s a story of people and their frailty as well as their angst but there’s no resolution.  That’s the only word that can really describe this film. This was new Hollywood and they were trying to make a movie that was unlike all the teenager movies that had ever been done. Those movies which starred  Frankie Avalon and others were obsessively clean and happy. This one isn’t, I think that’s why it made such a splash. It’s not like a John Hughes movie where the angst is resolved– rather, the angst remains in the ruins of this dying Texas town.

WK: There’s a poetic quality to “The Last Picture Show,” but really, it’s just so bleak, it’s not much fun to watch. I feel like this is a film where I can admire the craft without ever wanting to see it again. I don’t really enjoy watching people be miserable.

What works?

CRH: My favorite aspect of this movie is that it is in black and white. I think it’s the essential artistic statement of the movie. We have to remember that in the 1950s, though this movie was made in the seventies, black and white was the medium for human dramas. Only silly films or fantasy films or Disney cartoons were in color. I think the black and white makes this movie very real. That combined with the excellent performances in this all-star cast makes this movie what it is.

WK: I think this film, like “Raging Bull,” basically dares you to like its characters, in spite of the things they do.  And, by the end, I do like them.  Even Jacy.  So that part works.

What doesn’t?

CRH: The fact that I had to explain all this historical context makes this film a little bit harder to view today. This world is detached by our time by nearly  70 years. Most moviegoers don’t understand what Texas was like then or the historical moment. Nor were most of them alive during the 70s. The film was good enough on its own merits but I can’t imagine a reason anyone would want to see it.

Favorite scenes

CRH: I love the scene where Sam the lion, Sonny and Billy are at the tank. I love that Sam tells him the story of his love. I love that the nostalgia and the beauty of those memories comes through on the screen. There’s not much beauty in this movie except when the characters express genuine loss and remember the good times they did not appreciate at the time. This scene was gorgeous delivered with mastery by Ben Johnson. I verbally cursed at the screen when Sam died. The closest runner up was when Jacy’s mother played by Ellen Burstyn reveals to Sonny that she was the woman that Sam was in love with. It’s a beautiful moment of tenderness shared by a woman  we see as repugnant throughout the course of the film. It definitely had me thinking.

WK: The scenes at the end stick with me most — the death of a major character, and the way the old men stand around jawing about it, while Bottoms’ heart is breaking.  And then he tries to leave, just drive away, and can’t.  I think that moment captures the tone of this film so well.  And then Cloris Leachman – almost every scene she’s in, but most particularly when she throws the coffee pot at the wall.


CRH: I really don’t see how anyone would set themselves to see it. It doesn’t have that shocking factor it did when it was first released. It’s not an easy watch because there’s not much hope. Maybe the film is too truthful. It’s kind of a downer.

WK: Agreed.

Buying or selling?

WK: Neither. I think this is basically where it will stay on the list. I can think of a lo tof movies I like better that aren’t on the list, but this film has such a reputation, it’s not going anywhere.  Nor should it. It is a well-made film, and a time capsule of sorts.  Like the Texas town where it’s set, I don’t really want to revisit it, but I’d be sad if it just disappeared altogether.

CRH: I agree with you. I don’t think it’s selling but I don’t think of buying either. It’s definitely a good piece of art and I will recommend it. And I guess despite my original concerns people are still watching it.

Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, by Will Krischke, The Classic Movie Series.

The End of the Tour

What is the best conversation you’ve ever had?  I don’t think I could answer that question.  It’s an odd one to even ask – do we really even pursue good conversations with other people?  It’s a lot easier to talk about your favorite TV show or movie or novel or restaurant than your favorite conversation. It would be even more interesting to set out with that goal in mind: this week I am going to try and have the best conversation I’ve ever had.  How would that change the way I act, and would it ultimately be counterproductive?  Can great conversations be pursued, or are they the kind of thing that must happen organically?

David Lipsky spent 3 days interviewing author David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone, and, years later, turned that extended conversation into a book called “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.” The book, in turn, has been made into a movie called “The End of the Tour,” which is basically a two-hour conversation, with occasional changes of scenery and musical interludes.  At the end of the movie, Lipsky calls this the best conversation of his life, and yep, it’s a pretty great one.  It had better be, to justify this kind of attention.


Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Green Room

Jeremy Saulnier, director of the fantastic “Blue Ruin” a few years ago, returns this year with another color-coded flick, “Green Room.”  The title refers to the backstage room where bands wait to play, and that room has a lot more to do with the plot of this movie than the broken down blue car did in “Blue Ruin.”  Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat lead a punk band who, at the end of a disastrous tour, hoping just to make enough gas money to get home, reluctantly take a gig at a backwoods neo-Nazi water cooler.

But they’re in over their heads.  “This is not a party, this is a movement,” the leader (played, surprisingly but effectively, by Patrick Stewart,) declares from the stage at one point, and there’s more going on here than hardcore music and SS jackets.  Stewart leads a crew of fiercely loyal followers, and it begins to look like, once you’re in, there’s no way out.


Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Songs My Brothers Taught Me

Set in our time on the Pine Ridge reservation, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” is about the people who get left behind.  Not in the apocalyptic sense, but in ordinary, every day ways.  The film is full of aftermath scenes – the charred sticks, that remain after a house fire, or the beer cans strewn on the basement floor after a party. The fairgrounds after the rodeo has come and gone.  Almost all of these scenes are encountered by Dakota Brown, who is 11 but pretends like she’s 13, a kid on a pink bike who must piece together, out of the debris and the detritus, what happened and what it means for her life.


Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

The Witch

If “The Witch” isn’t the best artsy horror flick of 2016, then it’s going to be an especially good year for artsy horror flicks. An astonishing debut from director Robert Eggers, this is a beautiful, dark, haunting film about a Puritan family that completely disintegrates, step by step, hour by hour, until only one is left, and that one is shaken to her core. The production design is fantastic, the performances are full of conviction and the actors handle the difficult Puritan English with a naturalistic grace. The result is a film you won’t soon shake.

Ralph Ineson is the head of a New England Puritan family who, at the beginning of the film, are cast out of their plantation because of his heretical preaching. They move farther inland, away from all human contact, build a homestead, and begin to prepare for winter. Then terrible things begin happening, starting with the sudden and unexplainable disappearance of the baby.


Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.


The original “Rocky” was a quintessentially American story that, despite its many flaws (I find it barely watchable) connected with its audience on a fundamental level, because it was about a likable underdog for whom boxing is the only way out of his dead-end life. Rocky doesn’t have much going for him — he’s not smart, or rich, or particularly talented — but he takes down the champ on the strength of his heart.  We Americans eat this stuff up.

I think it’s impressive that “Creed” writer/director Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) didn’t just lift those themes from the original — the way all the sequels, and almost all boxing movies since “Rocky” have — but found new ways to make his story compelling.  This isn’t the story about an loser from the wrong side of town; it’s about a kid with lives in a posh mansion, who quits a lucrative job, and who finds a former heavyweight champion to be his trainer. While his big fight may come before he’s ready for it, career-wise, the odds are certainly in his favor.


Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.