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INFERNO (Blu-ray)

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infernocoverGrade: B-
Entire family: No
2016, 122 min., Color
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements, and some sexuality
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is confused for the bulk of this action-thriller, and as a result, so are viewers. As he was in The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009), Langdon is on the run—chased by people who want to get what he has, or kill him, or both. And once again he is accompanied/assisted by a beautiful woman (Sienna Brooks).

In other words, there’s a formula at work here, so those who liked the first two films based on novels by Dan Brown and directed by Ron Howard ought to enjoy this one as well. You know who you are, and you know the drill. Along the way you’ll learn more about Langford’s area of specialization—Dante and medieval symbols—and your confusions will eventually be resolved by explanations presented almost as rapid-fire as the action . . . so pay attention!

infernoscreen1In Inferno, Langdon awakens in a hospital in Florence, Italy. He is having major hallucinations of disturbing medieval images—graphic images that are mostly responsible for the PG-13 rating—and he has amnesia. He has no idea how he got from Boston to Florence. But there isn’t much time for reflection. The plot kick-starts when an Italian motorcycle policewoman comes to the hospital, shoots an orderly, and tries to kill Langdon. The nurse, Felicity (Brooks), helps him escape, and from that moment the chases are on. Langdon is pursued by three separate groups of people (who ARE they, and who’s telling the truth?), and on-the-run he’s racing to piece clues together to try to remember how he became involved in all of this, and how big it is.

What’s at stake is the future of humanity, so this high-stakes action-thriller is as intense and non-stop as it gets. There are very few moments when something frenetic isn’t happening. Even in “down time” we get those flashbacks or hallucinations and medieval terrors that torment us almost as much as they haunt Langdon. In other words, Inferno is a tense film that’s unrelenting in its images and action, making it every bit the PG-13 movie. If you know the rating system you know that filmmakers are allowed one F-bomb in a film of this kind, and Howard takes full advantage. That F-bomb is SHOUTED. Then again, when you find out a bio-engineered plague is about to be unleashed on the world—a plague that will reduce the world’s population by one half—such an outburst is probably justified.

Is it as good as the first two films? No. The Da Vinci Code is still the best of the bunch (a B+, in my gradebook), with Angels & Demons (B) coming in second and this one (B-) third. Because of the formula there are still infernoscreen2pleasures to be had, and director Howard does a good job of integrating the medieval images and keeping viewers off-balance. Those who aren’t enamored with the series complain that too much confusion is followed by too much exposition to explain that confusion, and that’s certainly the way that the Brown books work. Some will be just fine with this method of exposition, while others will be annoyed to sit in confusion and then suddenly have a monologue clarify a few things. But that’s the style of the series.

I’m not giving away anything by saying that the villain is a billionaire (Ben Foster) who wants to “save” the world by killing half the people, as that’s revealed pretty early in the film. But I do wonder if the World Health Organization is as heavily armed and tactical as they appear in this action-thriller. If so, they’re some pretty bad asses, as is Hanks-as-Langdon.

Language: One shouted F-bomb, plus a handful of lesser swearwords
Sex: Nothing except a couple briefly kissing, fully clothed
Violence: Lots of gunfire, graphic stabbing, attempted drowning, etc., with wounds shown and violence one main reason for the PG-13 rating
Adult situations: The medieval images are pretty intense, and the entire film is an adult situation: people running for their lives as they race to save lives
Takeaway: Amnesia plots always seem like low-hanging fruit, but this Dan Brown story unfolds in interesting-enough fashion

ANTARCTICA: ICE AND SKY (DVD)

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antarcticaiceandskycoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: Yes, but….
2015, 89 min., Color/B&W
Music Box Films
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: French/English Dolby Digital 5.1 w/subtitles
Bonus features: B-
Trailer
Amazon link

Claude Lorius is a glaciologist. Over a 60-year career he has participated in more than 20 polar expeditions—not only to study glaciers and glacial movement, but also to drill deep down into their near-timeless cores to analyze the ice from different time periods. What they reveal is fascinating, and one of the film’s memorable moments comes when we’re taken into an archive of core-drill ice samples all stacked in rows on shelves according to samples dated by their air bubbles—some of them going back 800,000 years. Lorius began his study of glaciers in 1956 as a 23-year-old man, but as early as 1965 his research was telling him something disturbing. Long before the polar caps began to melt, Lorius was predicting that they would because of the appearance of so-called greenhouse gasses in the ice samples he was taking, and the way those gasses altered the composition of the ice.

There’s no denying that the work Lorius does is fascinating science, unless you’re a U.S. politician who denounces anything that gets in the way antarcticaiceandskyscreen2of the economy. But it’s not very compelling as drama. Antarctica: Ice and Sky, a film by Luc Jacquet that closed the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, is a treatise on global warming that’s frankly dull in spots. The dialogue is overwritten and often stilted, and there aren’t enough shots of Antarctica in HD—with far too much of the film relying on grainier archival footage from earlier expeditions. What Lorius and others do may be fascinating as scientific research, but so much of that research is repetitive and the progress so glacial itself that there isn’t anything close to a dramatic structure to be found here.

I found myself liking the “making of” feature almost as much as the film itself. That one man would dedicate his life to the study of glaciers under such extreme conditions all but boggles the mind—almost as much as the idea director Jacquet had to tell the story of Lorius’s research and dedication by taking him back to the place he loves. That’s right: taking a frail, 83-year-old man to the Antarctic again, where the temperatures are the coldest on earth. The lowest temperature recorded at Vostok Station, the base camp where a good deal of the film was shot, was -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The altitude alone—12,800 feet—is enough to tax younger men, let alone an octogenarian.

Seeing Lorius in the present-day talking about his work is inspirational. There is much to admire in the man, and what the vintage footage does and antarcticaiceandskyscreen1does well is to show details of life as scientists live it in extreme isolation while working under extreme conditions. It’s a rare glimpse into everyday life that this film provides, and that’s a big plus. Another plus is that the film has a social conscience. It pays proper tribute to a man who has dedicated himself to studying glaciers and sharing his results with a world that too often denies science when it gets in the way of business. This film is recommended for families with children who are interested in becoming scientists, and for those lawmakers who seem to think that they know more than someone who’s spent 60 years doing meticulous and documented scientific research.

But Antarctica: Ice and Sky is not recommended for those who enjoy travel and place documentaries—though there are some amazing shots of night sky. Nor is it for those who enjoy nature films and hope to see plenty of the pole’s famed penguins. Though Jacquet also directed March of the Penguins, and though penguins do make a few appearances, Antarctica: Ice and Sky is mostly about the pursuit of science under the most horrible conditions imaginable. It’s a film about a man and his work and others who share his passion and his commitment to research. As such, it’s worth watching, but the man himself is more compelling than this film. If you are concerned about climate change (one reason why, one supposes, current female researchers protested Trump the day after his inauguration), Antarctica: Ice and Sky does a good job of explaining and illustrating how scientists are able to draw their conclusions. And if you aren’t? Then you might as well rent Frozen. In the future, animation might be the only way you’ll see a landscape like this.

PINOCCHIO (1940) (Signature Collection Blu-ray)

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pinocchiocoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: Yes
1940, 88 min., Color
Disney
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Pinocchio is both a classic and underrated Disney film, if that’s possible. The follow-up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs took animation down new paths, but was a box office disappointment and somehow never had the same appeal for successive generations as the princess and animal movies. Maybe it was because Walt Disney pushed his animators to create something a little darker in his second full-length animated feature. Or maybe this cautionary tale about what happens if a boy misbehaves was just a little too obvious. “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face,” the Blue Fairy says, and of course everyone’s familiar with the wooden nose that gets longer with every fib.

pinocchioscreenBased on the 1883 children’s novel by Italian writer Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio is nothing more than an extended fable about behaving well or else turning into a jackass (literally). In this story, old world woodcarver Geppetto sees a wishing star and wishes for his carved marionette to become a real boy. Enter the Blue Fairy, who waves her wand and brings Pinocchio to life, but tells him he will remain wooden until he proves himself brave, truthful, and unselfish. “Now remember,” she tells him, “be a good boy. And always let your conscience be your guide.”

Disney’s 1940 version is as episodic as the original book, with the first 24 minutes devoted to introducing Geppetto, his cat Figaro, goldfish Cleo, and a vagabond cricket named Jiminy who is given the job of being Pinocchio’s conscience. Jiminy is a great little singer. Voiced by a popular ukulele strummer named Cliff Edwards, the little cricket gets to warble the song that will become the Disney theme: “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Jiminy isn’t much of a conscience, but if he had done a better job there would be no story to tell.

The naive little woodenhead ditches Jiminy and meets a fast-talking fox named Honest John and his cat-companion Gideon, who get him to join Stromboli’s puppet show. Virtually sold into servitude, Pinocchio is locked up and yet still doesn’t learn his lesson. Sold again by Honest John, he later goes with other boys to Pleasure Island, where delinquents can do any undisciplined thing they want—including vandalizing, drinking beer, gambling, smoking cigars, and playing pinocchioscreen2billiards, all of which Pinocchio does with a ne’er-do-well named Lampwick. The Pleasure Island sequence was originally much tamer, with junk food being the only real vice. Disney pushed his animators to up the ante, and while that sequence is perhaps the most memorable, the consequence of hellraising is still a pretty obvious lesson in morality. It’s almost a relief when the moralizing is put on pause after Pinocchio learns his father had set out to find him but was swallowed by a whale named Monstro, and we get the film’s big action sequence.

Remember, though, that because full-length feature animation was still new, Disney was pulling out all the stops to try to top what he had done in Snow White. Geppetto’s workshop is a wonderland of moving clocks, and a long sequence showcases what animators were able to do. Same with the underwater scenes, where all sorts of colorful corals and anemones are impressively rendered. Some of the animation—like the hot coals from the hearth—still seems rudimentary, but for the most part Pinocchio is Golden Age Disney at it’s best. It’s still a good choice for family movie night, but a word to the wise: don’t feel compelled to talk about the Pleasure Island sequence with your children so they don’t get the “wrong idea” about bad behavior. The moralizing will be painfully clear to them.

Pinocchio was first released on two-disc Blu-ray in 2009, but that release is long out of print. This new Walt Disney Signature Collection includes a Digital HD copy of the film—the first time that’s available to the public—as well as a very well done new feature on the Pleasure Island sequence in which we hear Disney’s own voice talking about the storyboard.

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: The whale sequence can be briefly frightening for very young children, especially given a moment when we think one of the characters has died
Adult situations: Just the peril of the whale sequence and the Pleasure Island debauchery
Takeaways: We remember one song from this movie, but the others—“Little Wooden Head,” “Give a Little Whistle,” “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee,” and “I’ve Got No Strings”—are also quite good, and some of the animation is really ahead of its time

QUEEN OF KATWE (Blu-ray)

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queenofkatwecoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: Yes (with a one-scene caveat)
2016, 124 min., Color
Disney
Rated PG for thematic elements, an accident scene, and some suggestive material
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features:  B
Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Queen of Katwe is a co-production of Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films, and it does have the road-to-success structure of a typical sports biopic. The difference is that the “sport” here is chess—that two-player brainy board game enjoyed worldwide. If that sounds nerdy or dull, it’s not. This is no Bobby Fischer story of a temperamental prodigy living a life of privilege. Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), an Ugandan girl who grew up in a slum known as Katwe. And it’s not just her story. There are many places to find inspiration in this wonderful little PG-rated film, which seems perfect for family viewing on so many levels.

queenofkatwescreen1Shot in Kampala, Uganda in the actual slums of Katwe, the film provides a detailed picture of life as it’s lived in a Third World country . . . and in a section that’s impoverished even by Third World standards. Just to glimpse daily life there gives an eye-opening perspective to children raised in a western city, suburb, or small town. Though what you see isn’t overbearingly oppressive, it’s impossible to watch this film and not feel your mind and your own world expanding. There is poverty in Katwe, and yet there is still dignity and an attitude of joyfulness, especially in the children, that cannot be squashed. You feel it throughout the film, and as a result you come away from it appreciating your own life all the more—no matter what struggles you might have . . . or think you have.

You also develop an admiration for Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), a young single mother who was determined not to go the easy way of women in such situations and trade sexual favors for cash in order to survive—a point made as subtly as possible. And you admire missionary outreach social worker queenofkatwescreen2Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who coaches youth soccer and a group of dedicated young chess players he calls the Pioneers. He inspires them with his own story of learning to play well enough to beat the “city boys” and find enough pride in that moment to turn his life around. They can do it too, he tells them. They can use chess to find their way to a better life. He and his wife make sacrifices in order to take in some of the children, to help them, to convince reluctant parents like Nakku to let her two children join his little group of Pioneers and travel to matches. Queen of Katwe is a film about making good choices, and the characters we grow close to are wonderful role models.

Though it’s Phiona’s story, Queen of Katwe is also very much an ensemble film. The children in the film are all very good, and the camaraderie that the Pioneers have is contagious. It’s not just Phiona that you find yourself rooting for—it’s all of those chess-loving youngsters, and all the residents of Katwe and Uganda who, like the Jamaicans cheering their unlikely bobsledding Olympic heroes in Disney’s Cool Runnings, find inspiration and take pride in their accomplishments.

Queen of Katwe isn’t your typical feel-good Disney movie or biopic, but that’s another strength. With winning performances by the two stars and young Nalwanga, it’s the kind of film that sticks with you.

Language: Nothing to speak of
Sex: A sister is seen glamming up and going on a motorcycle with a man, and it’s implied that she is having relations with the man; it’s all very tastefully presented
Violence: One accident scene that could traumatize very young children
Adult situations: Talk of what the mother could be doing to pay the rent
Takeaway: Director Mira Nair has given us a wonderful triumph story that really resonates and inspires

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON: JOHNNY AND FRIENDS FEATURING JERRY SEINFELD (DVD)

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tonightshowseinfeldcoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: No (young children will be bored)
1985-88, 157 min. (3 shows), Color
Time Life
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

Okay, families, it’s cultural literacy time.

If you’re a fan of horror-thrillers, to appreciate that famous line “Here’s Johnny” from Stephen King’s The Shining, you really ought to have seen The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson at least ONCE, and witness sidekick Ed McMahon doing his introductory thing.

Since Seinfeld tops the TV Guide’s list of all-time greatest comedies and is still in syndication, you also ought to watch some of Jerry Seinfeld’s early Tonight Show stand-up routines to see a very young Jerry honing his craft and see how his humor, from the very beginning, focused on keen observations of the small things in everyday life.

This pure genius release from Time Life features three FULL episodes of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Fans of SNL and sketch comedy will find this worth buying just to see Carson’s classic impersonation of Sylvester Stallone in a one-man skit, “Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.” Inspired by Eddie Murphy’s 1983 SNL ghetto version of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, this 1985 sketch features Carson doing a spot-on Sly with special effects so much fun that the talk-show host thanked all of the people involved. It’s at least as funny as Murphy’s Mr. Robinson, and possibly funnier, given how great Carson’s impersonation is. And it’s way funnier than John Byner’s SNL version of “Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, tennis fans will delight in seeing 18-year-old Andre Agassi appear as a guest on one of these three shows—with a clip showing the mullet-haired Agassi, then a teen heartthrob, in three exchanges from a semi-final match he lost to Mats Wilander. It wasn’t much of a prediction, but Carson said on the air that in a few years Agassi would dominate the sport, and of course he did. There are some other great guest appearances on this DVD collection as well, including the only female drag racer back in 1986, Shirley Muldowney, whose interview with Carson is enlightening, even if Carson’s golf-cart drag racing challenge doesn’t meet expectations.

In TV, there’s probably no bigger name than Oprah, and she appears on one of these three shows to promote her appearance in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (clip shown). This was before Oprah’s talk show went totally national, as she announced that the show would be available in the L.A. market “soon.” It’s fascinating to see this icon before she became huge . . . just as it’s fascinating to see Arnold Schwarzenegger appear to plug his fish-out-of-water cop comedy Red Heat before he successfully ran for governor of California.

Of the guests, the always-annoying Shelley Winters is the only bomb, useful only for Carson to poke fun of. She comes on directly after that funny Rambo sketch, which makes it all the more painful to watch . . . so much so that the all-male King’s Singers novelty a cappella act seems refreshing.

tonightshowseinfeldscreenAs for Carson himself, these three shows offer proof enough as to why he was a late-night institution for three decades, ranked #12 on “TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.” His monologues are a course in comedy for aspiring comedians, with his gestures, his timing, and his handling of jokes that fall flat (or jokes he muffs) ultimately tweaked and twisted until they become running gags or produce more laughs than if the joke had been successful. Much of the Reagan-era humor is topical, but there’s enough here to make each monologue funny enough to watch even now. One thing worth mentioning, though, is the show’s trademark interlude tiles, with a “We’ll be right back” static message displayed on-screen while you listen to a few bars (in some cases, quite a few) from the studio band led by Doc Severinsen. Later late-night shows would put the camera on the band.

Bottom line: If you’re wanting to see a few FULL episodes of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson to boost your cultural literacy, this is the disc to get, as these shows have appeal for a broader range of ages than others might. An added bonus is that you can choose to watch the shows with or without original commercials. Families will want to watch the commercials too, because it’s always fun to see old products and familiar ones advertised 25 years ago. There isn’t a scene selection menu for each show, but the scenes are easily accessed using the skip button on your remote. Two clicks on the first show, for example, and you’re right there in “Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.”

Young children will be bored, but children old enough to watch reruns of adult shows on TV might find this DVD compilation as fascinating as their parents will. These three episodes would be rated PG because of the Rambo sketch and some innuendo that will fly right over young one’s heads.

DEEPWATER HORIZON (Blu-ray combo)

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deepwaterhorizoncoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: No
2016, 107 min., Color
Summit Entertainment
Rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Superstition has it that bad things come in threes. I don’t know how true that is, but disaster movies certainly seem to come in clumps, starting in the 1970s, when Airport was followed by The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Flood!, and Hurricane. The next bunch came in the late ‘90s—films like Twister, Titanic, Volcano, Firestorm, and Armageddon.

Last year’s San Andreas may have sparked another revival of the genre, with filmmakers discovering that it provides a terrific opportunity beyond sci-fi superhero movies to flaunt new advances in CGI special effects.

deepwaterhorizonscreen1True to its disaster movie roots, Deepwater Horizon gives only a brief introduction to the main characters—just a glimpse of their personal lives so we care whether they survive the calamity or not. The rest of the film unfolds with breakneck speed, hampered only by the amount of technical stuff going on and a combination of jargon and accented slang that can make deciphering dialogue somewhat difficult—especially given the background noise on a semi-submersible oil-drilling rig located some 250 miles from the Texas-Louisiana coastline. In other words, those who work on the rig designed to extract oil from a vertical depth of 35,000 feet must take a helicopter to get there. By boat, it would take forever.

But isolation is just one problem. There’s so much shoddy equipment onboard you could play a drinking game by hoisting a glass every time another piece of broken or malfunctioning equipment was pointed out—the result of oil giant BP, rig-builder Transocean, and oilfield services company Halliburton wanting to maximize profits by skimping on maintenance, repairs, and work hours. As the plot unfolds—as you watch test crews sent home before doing a requisite test, all because the project was running 40-some days late and it was costing the company too much money—you start to develop a real hatred for big corporations and their profit-over-safety decision-making. This was no small incident. The blowout explosion and fires killed crewmen and spilled roughly 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest disaster of its kind. Ever.

deepwaterhorizonscreen2As disaster movies go, Deepwater Horizon is pretty solid, with a cast that bridges three generations of moviegoers: Kurt Russell (Backdraft, Big Trouble in Little China) for the Baby Boomers, Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Entourage) for the Gen Xers, and Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner) and Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) for the Millennials. And John Malkovich is on hand to add a little touch of the sinister. Though disaster movies are all about the action and special effects, they still depend on actors to “sell” the disaster, to make us all believe it’s really happening and to like them enough to where we pull for them to somehow make it out.

With a serious cast of big names and bigger talents, Peter Berg (Battleship) is able to go for realism rather than putting all the burden on the special effects team. Yet, when all is said and done, Deepwater Horizon is still a disaster movie, which means the disaster itself is the real star. For it to succeed, the special effects, visual effects, and stunts must be totally convincing . . . and they are. You’d swear you were watching footage of the real disaster, and if the oil rig looks real, it’s because the filmmakers built one especially for Deepwater Horizon, making it one of the biggest set pieces ever. Deepwater Horizon is a taut thriller, so intense that the PG-13 rating really holds true.

Fans of the genre can look forward to the September 2017 release of Granite Mountain, about a team of elite fireman who tackle a deadly wildfire that ends up taking a huge toll.

Language: One f-bomb and plenty of other language once the calamity strikes, but really your focus is on the action and the extremely tense and believable disaster as it unfolds
Violence: LOTS of violence, with some objects imbedding in people and fires and explosions and flying shrapnel everywhere
Sex: No nudity, but a man and woman kiss in bed together; that’s it
Adult Situations:  The entire film is an adult situation
Takeaway: Though a lot of oil-rig workers were worried a movie like this would dishonor the memory of those who died, it does just the opposite . . . especially since it ends with actual photos of those who perished

SULLY (Blu-ray combo)

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sullycoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No
2016, 96 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: A-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

For the first 30 minutes or so, Sully is a little like the film’s namesake, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Understated and unassuming. it’s a quiet one-man show, the kind that star Tom Hanks pulled off in Cast Away. In fact, in the early going it feels a little ordinary—just a well-crafted character study that capitalizes on an actual news story.

Then something surprising happens. As the tension builds inside the pilot who made headlines and became a national hero for successfully landing a full passenger jet on the Hudson River, so does the tension build in this film by director Clint Eastwood.

sullyscreen2Before you know it, you’re wrapped up in the drama as Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have their actions questioned and must appear in front of a hearing panel of the National Transportation Safety Board. Could two men lauded as heroes for saving 155 people have put them needlessly in danger by choosing to land on the Hudson rather than returning to LaGuardia?

Like any good courtroom drama, Sully moves back and forth in time as everyone tries to piece together what really happened. Based on Sullenberger’s autobiography, this film doesn’t start at the beginning and build to the Miracle on the Hudson. Just the opposite. We join Sully soon after his January 2009 emergency landing as he is still obviously suffering from a mild form of post-traumatic stress syndrome and still trying to process what happened . . . all while dealing with the media spotlight. By film’s end—told from Sully’s point of view—you’re thinking that the real miracle was that this ordinary man was still able to keep his wits under such extraordinary circumstances in the bureaucratic crisis that came in the aftermath of the crash landing.

sullyscreen1In the tradition of disaster movies, we really don’t get much in the way of character development outside of Sully. His relationship with his family isn’t much scrutinized, and the clips we get in flashback only give us the most basic idea of his background in aviation. Mostly, the film stays with the forced landing, the aftermath, and the hearing . . . and it turns out to be plenty satisfying. That’s due, in large part, to Hanks—an actor my teenage son said he’d love even if he played a villain.

But Eastwood also knows how to craft a film, and just as he builds tension he brilliantly diffuses it with one of the best closing lines in Hollywood history. Some dramas have very little replay potential, but ones like Sully—in which you know the outcome already, which puts an added burden on the acting and directing—rise to the occasion. Years from now, when people have forgotten about the Miracle on the Hudson, the film will only grow more powerful than it already is. Now or then, it’s also a reminder for younger viewers that well-crafted and tense movies can be made without a lot of pyrotechnics and action. And yes, the way to see it is on Blu-ray, with its superior resolution and soundtrack and great bonus features.

Language: One f-bomb and maybe a few dozen milder swearwords
Sex: Squeaky clean
Violence: Apart from bleeding on one character, there isn’t anything besides the crash landing itself and the obviously panicked passengers
Adult situations: Sully has a drink at a bar, but there is no intoxication
Takeaways: Clint Eastwood sure knows how to make a film, and Tom Hanks can still carry one

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