Sully

When the real-life Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed that jet in the Hudson River in January 2009, it was an amazing “feel good” story. He became a hero. Not only was he a capable pilot, he was also a nice guy.

He’s portrayed in Sully by Tom Hanks, a capable actor who also seems to be a nice guy.

Yes, there was drama in the actual incident, but apparently not quite enough for director Clint Eastwood to build a movie around. The story needs… conflict! An essential ingredient for many narratives, the conflict in Sully seems contrived.

While America was enjoying the happy outcome of the emergency landing and Sully was becoming a media darling, that nasty ol’ NTSB had its doubts that the river landing was necessary. The three members of the National Transportation Safety Board played by Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn and Jamey Sheridan question Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) about their decision-making.

In informal meetings and in an official hearing, the NTSB team suggests that Sully could’ve made it back to LaGuardia or to Teterboro airport in New Jersey. They even produce flight simulations showing that they could have safely touched down at either airport. Sully cites the human element as the key factor in his choice.

The depictions of the river landing are realistic and provide the meat of the movie. Because of the incident’s happy ending, the film provides a reminder of the tension of the evacuation and rescue effort.

Sully’s concern is for his passengers as they make it safely from the plane and after all have been taken from the river to various locations. In a sweet segment during the closing credits, the real-life Sully and his wife visit with passengers from the flight. Laura Linney plays Mrs. Sullenberger in the film. Her role is small but effective.

Are Sully, its star and its director Oscar-nomination-worthy? Those, I think, will be borderline calls, based on the competitive field. Because Sully was a reserved, medium-key individual, Tom Hanks gives a medium-key performance. Even last year’s role in Bridge of Spies offered more opportunities for Hanks to display his acting chops.

Sully relives the events of that day in 2009 without major stylistic flourishes. This solid film should give American audiences a moment to be proud of and should rekindle the nation’s appreciation for this hero pilot.

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American Sniper

American Sniper is a red, white and blue story of a Texas cowboy who serves four tours of duty in Iraq. He is real life Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a man with a deadly aim.

Kyle’s story, unlike those told in Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker includes significant amounts of time spent stateside between tours and after his final tour. Wife Taya (Sienna Miller) is supportive and understanding of the fact that he can’t dial things back when he’s at home. Kyle loves his family but keeps feeling the need to go back for more action.

And what action it is! Director Clint Eastwood brings a taste of what combat must be like in the Mideast, where you never know if a civilian has a bomb strapped to his or her body. The engagements Kyle and his crew have with the enemy reveal the peril that troops must constantly be aware of. (Some of the combat scenes were filmed in Morocco.)

Cooper’s not the guy I might’ve cast in this role, but he is excellent here. (Although his Texas accent tends to come and go.) He manages to bring both the hard edge of the warrior and a softer side as a husband and father. Cooper does have good range.

American Sniper enjoyed excellent buzz last year but failed to win significant love from year-end critics awards. Lately, though, buzz has trended up again and the film received 6 Oscar nominations including Best Film and Best Actor.

The Chris Kyle story has a sad ending. But Americans looking for a hero will find one in American Sniper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jersey Boys

 

Jersey Boys will delight most baby boomers. The music is terrific! John Lloyd Young does not look or sound exactly like Frankie Valli, but he can hit the high falsetto notes and deliver the goods.

Jersey Boys is not a definitive biopic. It’s the movie version of a stage musical. The script is by the same guys who wrote the book for the stage version.

Jersey Boys begins slowly with brief samples of Frankie’s singing and brushes with the law. It takes a a while before the Four Seasons sing their first hit “Sherry.” From that point on, Four Seasons hit songs come along at frequent intervals and all the performances are strong.

The other Four Seasons are Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). The addition of Gaudio, the songwriter, is a key episode of the group’s formative years.

Tommy considers himself the group leader. Unfortunately, he mismanages the group’s finances and gets them into trouble with the mob. Shady father figure “Gyp” DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) provides guidance to the group through the crisis.

Another crisis involves Frankie’s estranged daughter Francine (Freya Tingley) who dies of a drug overdose, which supposedly leads him to record “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” as a solo project. (In real life, the song was a hit in the summer of 1967 and Francine didn’t die until 1980. Extreme dramatic license, I’d say.) Young’s performance of the song, starting in a studio and switching to supper club is a highlight.

In Jersey Boys, each group member breaks the 4th wall and speaks directly to the audience at various points in the movie. This device may have worked better on stage. In director Clint Eastwood’s movie version, while it may move the narrative along, it diminishes the reality of what’s onscreen.

Speaking of Eastwood, the movie contains one of my favorite director cameos of all time. (That’s all I’ll say. A tease, yes, but no spoiler.)

The closing number of Jersey Boys, a street dance performance of “Oh, What A Night” is the perfect finish for a movie that is to be enjoyed for its music. And, as mentioned, the music is terrific!

Trouble with the Curve

“Trouble with The Curve” is the ANTI-“Moneyball.” TWTC slams the stats-happy computer geek baseball personnel people and gives a nod to the old school cigar-chomping scouts.

The heart of this movie is the relationship between Gus, played by Clint Eastwood, and his daughter Mickey, played by Amy Adams. Despite all that has caused their estrangement, the glue that holds them together is baseball.

Once the basic plot is set up, you can pretty much guess how it will conclude. But getting there is a fun trip, with a surprise or two along the way.

Gus, a veteran scout for the Braves, is sent to the Carolinas to check out a high school phenom. But Gus is having vision problems and, stubborn old geezer that he is, he won’t see a specialist to have the situation addressed. A Braves team exec, played by John Goodman, asks Mickey to go to the Carolinas and make sure her dad is okay. She is a rising star Atlanta attorney who is about to make partner if she can pull off a certain deal.

Among the old scouts is a young Red Sox scout, Johnny, a washed-out pitcher, played by Justin Timberlake. He, like Gus, is there to see the phenom, but he also has his eyes on Mickey. She’s standoffish, so their relationship moves slowly but predictably.

Eastwood’s character is not far removed from the codger he played in “Gran Torino” a few years back. In TWTC, he also drives a classic Ford, a 60’s Mustang. The Mustang gets banged up when Gus has trouble with the curve on a highway and pulls in front of a vehicle he didn’t see coming.

As with last year’s “Moneyball,” you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie. TWTC is a movie that will, I think, appeal equally to men and women. Yes, it’s a movie about baseball. But it’s more about relationships.