Posts Tagged ‘AA’

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Reviewing Flight (2012) has compelled me to think back and acknowledge where some real self-destruction and cinematic genius had coalesced. Sid and Nancy is as good a place to start as any.

Based on the real life of Sid Vicious, the bass player of The Sex Pistols, we see how raw and unhinged addiction, the music industry and love can all be.  Throw them together and it’s a ride you won’t soon forget (unlike Denzel’s public service announcement for AA).

Roger Ebert was a big booster for the film:

“[Sid] was handed great fame and a certain amount of power and money, and indirectly told that his success depended on staying fucked up. This is a big assignment for a kid who would otherwise be unemployable. Vicious did his best, fighting and vomiting and kicking his way through his brief days and long nights, until [Nancy] Spungen brought him a measure of relief.”

It’s a fascinating descent into complete shyte.  These two, playing off of one another, expose the senselessness of their reckless ideology, its self-destructive mandate.  On a spiraling death plummet, but not without an original stain on the pavement, Sid and Nancy live forever in infamy.

 Trailer From Hell: Sid and Nancy

Other selections in the sub-genre include Johnny Depp’s Blow, a fantastic modern history of the drug trade and one of his most underrated films.  The allure of prohibition is more than just substance addiction.  Drugs have been a thorn in the side of society for so long, and their outlawing provides for a significant underground economy, including the predictable wars and mayhem associated with avoiding capture and prosecution, the creation of warlords and the casualties produced with increasing territory and profit margins.  People get caught up over their heads in so many ways.  Blow is also based on a true story, and Depp’s range is on display here.  Speaking of Depp, what’s a more mind-bending drug fueled descent into madness than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

While Blow tackles cocaine, the larger problem today is arguably crystal-meth.  Spun is a twisted indie take on that menace, and also underrated / unknown.  Powerful performances, powerful situations, and the filmmaking is sharp as a shiny new hypodermic.  Spun is an experience, a trip to take, much like Requiem For a Dream.  There are just so many great drug addled explorations once that Pandora’s Box is pried open.

Yet another addiction drama with a twist is Rush, with Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Undercover narcotics officers get hooked on their own contraband.  The lines between law and outlaw are blurry indeed.  Denzel’s previous drug film Training Day also explored that territory.

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Clicking on the Sid and Nancy imdb page instantly prompted me with Oliver Stone’s The Doors, which is another groundbreaking intense exploration of addiction and self-destruction – and pretty much true, and significant.

Others in this genre include Less Than Zero, with Robert Downey Jr. and Bright Lights, Big City with Michael J. Fox.  I’ve given a nod to The Wackness with Ben Kingsley, and even Charlie Bartlett (Downey again) had more complex characterization than Flight.

Perhaps the crème of them all is Phillip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.  Mind bending exploration of addiction, prohibition and the images are presented like no other film you would have seen (except perhaps Waking Life).


If you watch all these films, you will instantly see why Flight comes up so banal and inconsequential by comparison.  It’s relegated itself to the cheap, disposable dustbin of obviousness and even preachiness.  Flight is far too simplistic and simple-minded to bother talking about any further.

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A big, edgy PSA for Alcoholics Anonymous?

I finally caught Flight, the much talked about Denzel Washington vehicle.  What stuck with me most is the thinness of the character, his one dimensional alcoholism that infects pretty much every scene of the movie.  Rather than adding sufficient complexity and making the story seem more real, the incessant drive for alcohol and self-destruction sort of makes the plot obvious and predictable.  The one-dimensional label may be inaccurate, as “Whip” has at least two dimensions: he’s a spooky talented pilot as well as a self-destructive alcoholic.

We never get much background on either situation however.  Other than the expected interpersonal problems, Denzel’s alcoholism doesn’t seem to grow out of anything in particular.  His upbringing and development are non-existent.  As for his flying skills, there is one passing throwaway line about being in the Navy at one point.  And?

What helped make the film work for audiences was a unique in-flight emergency.  The plane fails in a spectacular fashion, and only the most radical, insane maneuver can save it.  As for the technical details, I’m not at all sure they got that right either, as every system on the aircraft starts failing at once without adequate explanation.  Be that as it may, we’re sold on the radical maneuver, the incredible flying and the big save – of most of the passengers.  A few die in the crash.

This plane crash centerpiece reminded me instantly of another film, one that did affect me: Fearless (1993).  In Fearless, Jeff Bridges walks away from a devastating plane crash without a scratch, and the survivor’s guilt is so powerful that it changes his entire life on the psychological and even on the physical level.  A magical realism elevates the film to another plane, a magic that is nowhere to be found in Flight.

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Flight is more of a character study.  But the character they’ve concocted is pretty much a dead horse, except for the flying sequence.  So, is this a movie of the week that got lucky and spiced up with sex and drugs?  You tell me.

Another film that comes to mind of a broken character, an alcoholic drug abuser with complexity, and an interesting story line is Postcards From the Edge (1990).  This was Carrie Fisher’s (Princess Leia’s) “semi-autobiographical” novel transformed into a feature film featuring Meryl Streep like we had never seen her before.  Postcards shows a struggling alcoholic trying to be a better person, much like Flight, but the tone is comedic and spontaneous, and not so suffocating.

So many stories have centered on human frailty and trying to overcome one’s demons that the field is always open to another contender, if it can shine a light where one hasn’t poked before.  I don’t think Flight does so.  Perhaps it comes close, but no spliff.  The plane incident does not provide sufficient novelty in my opinion to elevate this story to a place among the best of them.  Denzel’s performance is expectedly compelling, but I don’t think the material was sincere enough.  It had a paint by numbers, cynical undertone that grated on me and left me underwhelmed.

The litmus test: I could watch Fearless or Postcards again and again, but have no desire to revisit Flight.


Continues here (sort of)