Tagged: Aaron Eckhart

Box Office Democracy: “Sully”

Maybe every significant historical event doesn’t need to be a feature film.

It’s clear from the glut of remakes and sequels that Hollywood is running out of ideas, and while we’ve mined World War II as thoroughly as I think is possible, some things still don’t qualify as feature films. Sully has an amazing story to tell but it doesn’t have 90 minutes of story to tell. You could get all of the essential bits of narrative into an hour of TV with commercials and it might still feel padded. There’s an extreme amount of flat out useless content in here; some of it is trying to create conflict, some of it is trying to link the landing on the Hudson to 9/11 in some appallingly exploitative filmmaking, and some of it is just there to pad the anemic running time.

Clint Eastwood is a fantastic director and the in-air scenes are masterfully done. Everyone who sees this movie contemporarily is going to know exactly what happens, that the plane is going to land safely in the Hudson River and that everyone on board is going to live, but those scenes in the air are amazingly intense. The way Eastwood tells the story from, the inside of the cockpit, to the passenger cabin, to the air traffic controller, to the first responders, and even the incidental New Yorkers is masterful. The sequence, the way they run it the first time through, is worth the price of admission by itself.

I say “the first time they run through it” because at the end of the film they run the whole sequence back again, this time with the contrivance of everyone listening to the flight data recorder. This time we get just Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart doing the least interesting parts of their performances going through a sequence we’ve already seen in a more interesting way earlier in this 90-minute film. There simply isn’t enough stuff in this movie once we move away from the thing we all came here to see, so they have to keep filling.

There’s a frame story about a National Transit Safety Board investigation trying to put fault at the feet of Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles that felt inauthentic in the theater, remembering the universal adulation these men got— and upon research, was inaccurate enough that the real-life Sullenberger asked for the names of the investigators to be changed. There’s a family plot that feels like it’s missing a key detail or some additional context to explain why the scenes are all so stilted, it’s like they filed for divorce the day before and no one decided to mention it. There are also two flashbacks: one showing Sully at flight school for the briefest moment and one showing a tricky landing from his Air Force days, and while they’re effective in what they do and mercifully brief it’s very strange to have this gesture towards being a biopic before backing away.

I didn’t appreciate all of the gestures to 9/11 imagery they used in Sully. I don’t know if they put them in and then decided it was perfect to release on the weekend of the 15th anniversary, or if they saw they had that opportunity and added them in, but I hated them. The movie opens with Sully having a nightmare about turning back towards LaGuardia and crashing in to a building in Manhattan, and then later in the movie he’s standing by a window looking over Times Square and sees a plane crash into a building. These scenes did not feel to me like they were the ideal way to show the trauma of living through the experience (although for all I know it’s what really happened) but seemed, to me, to be an attempt to get some 9/11-style imagery in the movie to get some jingoism in. As a honest-to-goodness 9/11 victim, I hated it. It’s shot very realistically, brought me back to some times I would prefer to keep in my past, and I didn’t care for it at all.

I don’t know who has the authority to tell Clint Eastwood he can’t make a movie these days, but they should have sat him down with this one. Not every significant American moment needs to be a movie, even if at the end we can have a feel good moment about first responders. Sully is a movie with one fantastic sequence and a bunch of filler because no one would pay $15 to see a 45-minute movie in a theater. Sully is a bunch of talented people doing good work, in the service of a movie that feels empty at best and exploitative at worst. I want better from all involved.


THE LONG MATINEE-Movie Reviews by Derrick Ferguson


Columbia Pictures

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Produced by Jeffrey Chernov and Neal H. Moritz
Written by Christopher Bertolini

Much of the creative entertainments we enjoy are done according to formula, agreed?  Why is such practiced, especially in movies?  Because there are certain movie formulas that are guaranteed to work no matter if the movie is made in 1959 or 1977 or in 2011.  Criticizing a Western for having gunfights at high noon, horses and buffalos is kinda silly because when you watch a Western you have certain expectations of what you’re going to see.  After all, isn’t that why you’re watching a Western?  Because you know the formula, you just want to see them played out in a different mix, is all.
Now, as my dear Aunt Lottie would put it; I say that to say this: I’ve read reviews criticizing BATTLE: LOS ANGELES for being a cliché war movie.  Not that the reviews are wrong.  In fact, it is a cliché war movie.  This is exactly the same kind of movie John Wayne and Audie Murphy were making back in the 40’s and 50’s except the enemies were German and Japanese soldiers, not aliens.  In fact, this could have been a war movie set in Afghanistan or Iraq as that’s how it’s played out: as a modern day war movie.  The only exceptional thing about the enemy is that they come from Outer Space and not Over There.

Meteors land in the waters off major coastal cities.  And inside the meteors are spacecraft containing hostile alien soldiers that swiftly spread into the cities, killing every human in sight.  They make no effort at communication and are not interested in taking prisoners for anal probing.  They’re simply and efficiently going about the job of exterminating the human race.

Marine Staff Sergeant Nanze (Aaron Eckhart) is forced to put off his retirement as he has to replace a platoon sergeant for an important mission.  The platoon he’s assigned to has to rescue civilians from an LAPD station within three hours.  That’s when the Air Force is going to carpet bomb the area.  The platoon commander, Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) is kinda leery about Nanze.  The Staff Sergeant is a good Marine, no doubt about that.  But a lot of rumors about Nanze’s last mission have been floating around Camp Pendleton that he doesn’t like.  But orders are orders and so the platoon is off on their mission.  One that swiftly goes wrong as they are ambushed time and again by the relentless alien invaders.

All that you can get just from the TV commercials and the trailers.  BATTLE: LOS ANGELES isn’t trying to make you think it’s going to be one thing, then get you in the theater to find out it’s something else.  It’s about a platoon of Marines trying their best to survive against an enemy they never dreamed they’d be facing.  The movie is as brutally uncomplicated as a cast iron skillet upside the head.  Before the invasion, we get brief vignettes of the various platoon members and they each are a proven War Movie Type: The Green Lieutenant Who Has No Combat Experience.  The Virgin.  The Heroic Black Guy.  The Soldier With A Dark Past.  The Soldier Who Choked Under Fire And Fears He’s A Coward.  And as you watch each one of their vignettes, go ahead and play the game of Who Gets Killed And In Which Order.

So what’s right about the movie?  Aaron Eckhart, who I’m convinced is incapable of turning in a bad performance.  He plays his role as if he’s assuming you’ve never seen a War Movie before.  Michelle Rodriguez surprised me in this one.  Usually she plays one of two roles: The Pissed-Off Latina With Bigger Balls Than Any Man or The Really Pissed-Off Latina With Bigger Balls Than Any Man.  But in this movie she dials her usual anger way back and comes off more as a person and less like a stereotype.
I also liked how we never really get to know the aliens or why they’re here.  Oh, there’s some kind of technobabble about them needing our resources but it’s really not necessary.  They’re The Enemy and that’s all we need to know.  The aliens are tough mollyfoggers but they’re not indestructible.  They’re worthy adversaries for the platoon.

What didn’t I like?  That damn shaky-cam.  The use of it renders the firefights a jumble of meaningless images.  The use of shaky-cam in this movie is so bad that in the first two firefights I could swear that the entire platoon was wiped out and I was honestly surprised when everybody regrouped alive and well.  Once the action starts, the Marines are difficult to tell apart.

So should you see BATTLE: LOS ANGELES?  You should if you can’t wait until the summer to see a summer popcorn movie.  ‘Cause that’s what it is, no more no less.  It’s just here a few months early, that’s all.
116 minutes