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Recent Movies: Flight; Life of Pi; Barbara ****

January 21, 2013

Recent Movies

Flight

A troubled U.S. airline pilot (played by Denzel Washington) has an unusual day where he is heroic on one hand but possibly facing jail on another.

This film is blessed with two pivotal scenes.  In the beginning, a flight in danger is perfectly executed causing the right amount of suspense and tension.  Equally suspenseful and tense is a scene near the end when the pilot is being interrogated by a transportation safety board.

Though the film appears to be about airplanes, it’s truly about addiction.  It delves deeply into a life plagued by alcoholism, not only exposing the compulsion and its aftermath; it also exposes a life-long pattern of lies told by addicts and the enabling behaviour of those around the addict to protect him.  “Flight” does a fine job in this area as well, going where few other films would go in the area of addiction.  Credit must be given to Washington, the film’s directer Robert Zemeckis, and its writer John Gatins.

The pivotal ending could cause a lot of good debate on either side of whether or not the outcome should have happened.  This is one of the film’s many strengths.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * * 1/2

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Life of Pi

A teenage boy survives a shipwreck travelling from India to Canada. As various zoo animals on board also survive the shipwreck, his life is endangered  further.

The film is based on the superb novel by Yann Martel.  The film-makers did a fine job in adapting the novel but perhaps missed a chance to add their own flair to the story.  The director is Ang Lee, one of the best directors overall of the past two decades (Brokeback Mountain;  Sense and Sensibility;  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon;  The Wedding Banquet;  The Ice Storm).  Lee’s special flair is less evident here than in the aforementioned films though the task of adapting such an unusual story was probably challenging enough – especially with the superb special effects used to create animals.

An exceptional scene, however, occurs near the beginning of the film when the boy and his brother anticipate the entrance of a tiger in an L-shaped cage in their family’s zoo.  Rarely has a shadow in the distance ever seemed more frightening.

It is definitely a beautiful film but at times it could have used more grit and less glitter.  It’s quite entertaining any way.

Rating:   * * *

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Barbara

In the 1980s Communist East Germany, a physician (the title character) is demoted from a high position in East Berlin to a hospital in a small town near the Baltic Sea.  The government authorities are upset with her desire to defect to the West and are constantly keeping her on watch.

This film is easy to compare to “The Lives of Others” (2006) which also took place in East Germany.  In both films, the main character makes a decision to cause a plot twist by the end.  Due to the nature of the situation, it was hard to read any change in the characters’ faces as being stone-faced was a way of survival in that place and time.  This was easier to accept in “The Lives of Others” than it was in “Barbara” in which I found the conclusion very difficult to accept.

It might have been easier if there were slight hints shown by the main character about change.  Actress Nina Hoss does a fine job as does director Christian Petzold.  However, they miss opportunities to show even a slight facial expression that change might be coming.

One of the highlights is the subtle performance of Ronald Zehrfeld as a colleague at the head of the hospital where Barbara works.  He comes off as being unable to hide the hurt he feels when his love and infatuation are unrequited from his new colleague.  He was quite moving in his gentle humility.

The film also includes some universal themes.   One is the fact that in all countries and regions, there are great divisions between those from large cities and those from less populated areas.  Another theme is that the field of medicine is more than a career for some; it is a calling and a vocation.

Overall, I found this to be a good film but I was frustrated as it had the potential to be an even better one.

Rating:   * * *

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