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Friday, January 22, 2021

Three Movies, Two Cities and One John Goodman

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Michael Fleming
Michael Fleming
Wilmington resident Michael Fleming is a marketing and communications executive.

Put me in the feast or famine category when it comes to movie-going. Months and months will slip by, sometimes half a year or more, without my stepping foot in the local cineplex, much less dusting off that Netflix video gathering dust in front of the TV (are they still in business?).

Then I’ll find myself in a silver-screen blitz as has happened over the last two weeks where in short order I’ve seen “Skyfall,” the twenty-third installation in the James Bond franchise, the Ben Affleck thriller “Argo” and “Flight” starring Denzel Washington as a talented, but extremely troubled airline pilot.

We are a big Bond family, and Daniel Craig’s debut as the British superspy in “Casino Royale” was one of our favorites. “Skyfall” opened on a Thursday at midnight, so, expecting a big turnout at the local (Newport Cinemark Movies 10) Friday night show, we eagerly bought tickets online to secure our space in a crowded theatre.

Surprisingly, when we arrived (waaaay too early, it turns out) there was no line and ample seating despite the ideal (and all-too-rare) showtime of 8:20.

Our hopes for Bond glory were high, because “Casino Royale” was so well done and “Quantum of Solace” (one of the dumbest, most perplexing names in the history of film) so cruel a disappointment – some bright spots to be sure, but overall a sluggish, convoluted and meandering mess of a movie.

Regrettably, while “Skyfall” started strong – a great opening scene full of furious fisticuffs on a high-speed train – the movie soon descended into a similarly obtuse story-line as “Quantum,” with a shadowy former MI6 agent cast as the principle villain, a sociopathic spook carrying a grudge against British spymaster Dame Judy Dench, once again playing herself.

I wasn’t the only one left wanting. My kids thought “Skyfall” was too long, with a villain (a seriously cloroxed Javier Bardem) bent on a very narrow and not altogether believable or compelling mission, or at least one unworthy of 007’s precious attention. Most damning (and they are a very generous audience), their assessment was thus: “It didn’t seem like a Bond movie – it felt more like just another action film.”

On the positive side, I enjoyed Adele’s eponymous song, the best Bond-inspired tune since Carly Simon’s “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Verdict: Two stars out of four.

Thanksgiving found the Flemings in St. Louis, and beyond our primary purpose of being with family, for us, visiting this mid-western city has also come to mean movies. St. Louis has more wonderful old theatres than I’ve seen in any mid-sized American town (with plenty of convenient mall mega-plexes) – all within just a few miles of my mother-in-law’s home.

The Esquire. The Landmark Hi Pointe. The Tivoli. Classic, multi-screen monuments to that city’s storied past.

Over three days we took in five films between six people. I caught two: “Argo” and “Flight.”

“Argo” is “based on the true story” (read: serious artistic/historic license employed) of the CIA mission to extract six US diplomats hiding in the Canadian Ambassador’s residence after narrowly escaping the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran as it was being stormed by violent revolutionaries in November 1979. Affleck stars as Sam Mendes, the G-man who devised the scheme to rescue the six using the cover of a phony science fiction flick called “Argo.”

Affleck is no Laurence Olivier (or Denzel Washington, for that matter) and the shaggy ‘70s rug he sports was for some reason a real distraction. It looked really fake. And while the film’s pacing was solid, the story compelling and other performances good, I just couldn’t buy Affleck in his role. Sorry to all you “Gigli” fans.

One bright spot is the performance of John Goodman, he of Roseanne (hey, everybody makes mistakes) “Big Lebowsky” fame.   Goodman plays John Chambers, a Hollywood knock-about who over the years has done odd jobs for the agency.

Can we call Goodman a character actor? He certainly plays characters (see below).

Back to “Argo.” It was OK. I give it a “C+” – two stars.

“Flight” was the best of the three.  (It also has the best soundtrack, including the Cowboy Junkies doing Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, etc.)

Denzel Washington is superb, playing Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic, drug-addled airline pilot, whose miraculous, masterful handling of a doomed plane ironically forces him to come to terms with the devastation wrought by his self-destructive habits. This moment of moral clarity arrives in the only real weak-moment of the film, a hokey and implausible government agency hearing.

Washington was blessed with a superb supporting cast, including Don Cheadle as a capable and thoughtful pilot union lawyer.

Another critical supporting role is played our friend John Goodman, who offers comic relief in an otherwise dark tale, popping in and out of the film as Whip’s go-to drug dealer and all round Mr. Fix-It (in a certain “Lebowski” kind of way).

“Flight” lifts off with three out of four stars.


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Bill to alter state constitution rules on elections heads to House floor

Opponents of the bill say it's dangerous to change the way election laws have to be passed in the General Assembly.

State sends out invites to 11,500 seniors for weekend vaccinations

More than 56,000 registered to be vaccinated Wednesday. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, 73,630 requests had been made.

Proposed bill would suspend teacher appraisals, which are based partly on student performance

Instead of evaluations, the bill suggests having teachers continually observed to provide coaching and support for hybrid and remote learning.
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