Weekend Movie Preview: 'Flight,' 'Wreck-It Ralph,' 'The Man with the Iron Fists,' & 'A Late Quartet'
November 2nd, 2012 1:00pm EDT
This weekend at the theater, Robert Zemeckis returns to the land of live-action with the Denzel Washington drama “Flight,” the videogame world is turned upside down when a villain decides to switch sides in “Wreck-It Ralph,” Wu-Tang rapper RZA makes his directing debut with the kung fu flick “The Man with the Iron Fists,” and a classical music group struggles to prevail against inner turmoil in “A Late Quartet.”
Today’s column contains my reviews of “Flight,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “A Late Quartet” along with my predictions about how “The Man with the Iron Fists” will be.
An airline pilot (Denzel Washington) miraculously lands his plane after an in-flight malfunction, but investigation into the incident casts public light on troubling aspects of his personal life.
Director: Robert Zemeckis (“A Christmas Carol,” “Beowulf”)
Writer: John Gatins (“Real Steel,” “Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story”)
Notable Supporting Actors: John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, Brian Geraghty, Nadine Valazquez,
MY TAKE: Believe it or not, “Flight” is Robert Zemeckis’s first live-action film, since 2000’s “Cast Away.” Zemeckis has directed all types of tales, but over the past decade especially, he has truly embraced digital filmmaking, churning out three CG motion-capture flicks. So after 10 years of directing family-friendly animated movies, you would think he'd be a bit rusty when it comes to helming an intense R-rated drama. Thankfully he's not.
To call the first act explosive would be an understatement. From the opening moments after pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) stumbles out of bed, you’re inherently certain that he’s on a collision course with catastrophe. Whitaker’s flight becomes a rapidly growing snowball of tension, as Zemeckis builds up to the circumstances of the crash. Once everything descends into chaos, he puts you right there on the plane, forcing you to experience this horrific and terrifying experience firsthand.
Following the crash, “Flight” settles down to become a slower-paced character drama. And although the remainder isn’t as thrilling, it’s still captivating, like a sickening accident that you can’t ignore. As one man descends into an endless spiral of substance abuse and lies, you’re constantly shocked by the moral depths that he reaches. And when he hits rock bottom, it’s difficult to find any sympathy left for him.
Denzel Washington gives a superb performance, proving once again that he’s just as skilled at playing arrogant antiheroes as he is at portraying lovable protagonists. His character is a fascinating egotist who is simultaneously haunted by crushing regret. Honorable mention should go to John Goodman, who is only around for a few minutes, but steals every scene that he’s in as Whitaker’s kooky Southern-fried drug dealer Harling Mays.
The film’s less zippy pace after the crash almost causes you to lose interest at certain points and at others, the Rolling Stones tunes make “Flight” feel a bit too much like a Scorsese rip-off. However the strong acting and the rest of the songs on the soundtrack prevent the tale from sliding into mediocrity. Regardless of whether you think Whitaker’s a jerk, you’ll still find yourself rocking out with him to the Stones, Bill Withers, Joe Cocker, and Red Hot Chili Peppers until he finds his moment of clarity.
My Grade: A-
Videogame baddie Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) longs to be loved like his nemesis, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). Since people only appreciate heroes, Ralph uses the arrival of a first-person shooter at his arcade as a chance to change everyone’s perception of him. He sneaks into the game to win a medal, although in the process, he accidentally frees a foe that threatens the entire arcade. To save the day, he’ll have to learn how to be a good guy from Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a mischievous young character inside a racing game.
Director: Rich Moore (“Futurama,” “The Simpsons”)
Writers: Newcomer Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston (“Cedar Rapids”)
Notable Voice Actors: Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Ed O’Neill, Dennis Haysbert, Adam Carolla, Horatio Sanz, Maurice LaMarche, John Di Maggio
MY TAKE: Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” has the aesthetics of a Pixar film, the same reverence for videogames as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and zany characters reminiscent of ones from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Although the movie is a sweet adventure with a moral in the Pixar vein, “Wreck-It Ralph” appeals to its target audiences through very different means. Adults schooled in classic videogames will laugh out loud at the nods to Q*bert, Super Mario, Sonic, Street Fighter, and even newer games like Metal Gear Solid. Kids on the other hand will giggle, at the silly potty talk used by central characters Ralph (Reilly) and Vanellope (Silverman).
Similar to other computer animated films, this one absolutely benefits from a 3D presentation. The extra dimension breathes even more life into the characters and the environment. In ways that I wish “Tron Legacy” had done, “Wreck-It Ralph” transports you to an immersive computerized world where you legitimately feel like you’re inside a videogame. Slick visuals are partly responsible for this sensation, but the other key piece is the lighthearted electronic score composed by Henry Jackman, which bears the youthful exuberance of typical videogame tunes.
As Ralph, John C. Reilly is funny and lovable in his usual dopey, self-deprecating kind of way. His performance, like that of his co-stars Silverman, Lynch, and McBrayer may be predictable, yet it’s still satisfying. The most unexpected amusement comes from the story’s true villain King Candy, voiced by the immensely talented Alan Tudyk. He literally becomes so lost in the character that he’s unrecognizable until you see his name in the credits.
At times “Wreck-It Ralph” can be overly cutesy and lean too heavily on sophomoric humor, though it is a visually striking, well-crafted flick that will please gamers of all ages.
My Grade: B+
THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS
Warriors, assassins, and a rogue British soldier searching for a fabled gold treasure drop into a village in feudal China, where a mild-mannered blacksmith (RZA) must defend himself and his fellow townsfolk.
Director/Writer: Wu-Tang rapper RZA
Co-Writer: Eli Roth (“Aftershock,” “Hostel”)
Notable Actors: Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Cung Le
ORIGINALITY RATING: Medium. Watching the trailer, you can definitely tell from a visual standpoint, that “The Man with the Iron Fists” is influenced by Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” But it also appears to draw from samurai, western, and exploitation movies. Like other works involving multi-genre homage, thankfully this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. RZA is clearly having fun paying tribute to action cinema, especially with its story. Based on the wicked cool titles, the eclectic casting of Russell Crowe, the badass song, and the hilarious tagline in the trailer, I’m feeling confident that the film will be a solid debut feature for RZA. It has the potential to jumpstart a whole new career path for him. I can’t wait to see it.
WHO SHOULD SEE IT: Fans of Tarantino-esque genre-mashing flicks, which honor multiple cult film subgenres in unison. If you think this movie seems like the perfect medley of hip music, action-packed visuals, and colorful style then you should check out “The Man with the Iron Fists.”
A LATE QUARTET
The members of a world-class string quartet struggle to survive in the face of disease, conflicting egos, and ill-timed sexual affairs.
Director/Writer: Yaron Zilberman (“Watermarks”)
Co-Writer: Seth Grossman (“The Fantastic Two,” “The Elephant King”)
Notable Actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Imogen Poots, Mark Ivanir, Wallace Shawn
MY TAKE: Based on the summary above, “A Late Quartet” sounds like it should be a gripping drama. But if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I would have turned off the film halfway through; that’s how bored I was. Classical music can be dry on its own, especially to those who haven’t studied it. And unfortunately this flick makes no attempt to engage a less initiated audience.
The very narrow focus of the film would be a lot more acceptable, if it did justice the music. Even to the untrained eye, it’s very obvious that what the actors are playing on the instruments, doesn’t match up with what you’re hearing. The issue is exacerbated by the persistent use of wide shots, since you can see everything the person is doing. It’s clear that no one instructed the actors long enough on how to pantomime playing, because their bodies are rigid and their faces are blank. You can tell that they aren’t truly enjoying what they’re doing. Thus it’s hard for you to get excited with them.
What “A Late Quartet” does do well, is to show you the complex dynamics that occur when personal and professional relationships are intertwined in a musical group, particularly with clashing egos. But when it comes to the other dramatic conflicts, the filmmakers focus on the completely wrong issues. Instead of concentrating on the devastating effects of Parkinson’s on the lead member Peter (Walken), the movie decides to put more emphasis on sensational problems like marital troubles between Robert (Hoffman) and Juliette (Keener), as well as the tawdry affair between the couple’s daughter (Poots) and bandmate (Ivanir).
Due to the lack of significant character development, the drama in “A Late Quartet” lacks emotional punch, and disappointingly the one person whose story should matter most, is neglected. All of the other characters’ issues are trivial by comparison, and all they’ll get from me is the world’s smallest violin playing for their troubles.
My Grade: D
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Photo Credits: © Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved, © Disney Enterprises, Inc, © Universal Pictures