Romy Shiller

Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page


In Film, review on February 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm


ABOUT: Flight is a 2012 American drama film directed and co-produced by Robert Zemeckis starring Denzel Washington, with Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, and John Goodman. Flight is Zemeckis’ first live-action film since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, which were both released in 2000. Flight is currently nominated for two Academy Awards at the 85th Academy Awards: Best Actor (for Denzel Washington) and Best Original Screenplay (for John Gatins).

Story: An airline pilot who saves lives by skillfully crash-landing a malfunctioning passenger jet in the midst of a mechanical catastrophe can be considered a hero. The same pilot, on the same flight, operating with booze and coke in his system must be considered a criminal.

dressed-f-04264r-jpg_152851 Denzel Washington plays a very complex character in this film. One might want straightforward, or black and white definitions of right and wrong but they won’t find it here. That is what makes this character and film interesting. Washington plays pilot William “Whip” Whitaker who is high on drugs and alcohol but ultimately saves a doomed plane from crashing. How we negotiate his addiction with his deeds makes the audience active, not passive. The spectator becomes a part of the film in this way.

I like that the plane flaws are a metaphor for Whitaker’s flaws. His life is in a nose-dive. Can he save himself like he did the plane?

We see that Whitaker has no control over his drinking and that he has a drug dealer (Goodman) that brings him cocaine to ‘straighten’ out. He develops a relationship with a recovering addict who had overdosed on heroine and who he meets in the hospital after the plane incident. I think that it is very interesting to see whom he lets into his life versus whom he rejects. He rejects his ex-wife, son, and nice pilot.

Before his trial, he admits that he is used to lying. Pretending that he is sober is a constant way of life for him. You don’t need a mask and cape to hide. Hiding in plane sight is very interesting on this site in particular, because so many films that we see involve a doubling effect. The pilot’s uniform becomes a disguise.

What is a potential minefield here, would the drunk/high pilot have made the same choices straight?

“Usually what people are trying to do is maintain themselves,” Washington has said. “Where actors get into problems is that they act drunk. In fact, you’re trying to keep it in. Especially a pilot. This guy is basically lying most of his life. He’s used to it.”

Whitaker was so put-together on the flight. His co-pilot later says that he smelled booze on his breath but looking at him would be deceiving. Now that’s good acting combined with good faith – trusting that if you play against ‘type’ it will work out. iw speaking

Director Robert Zemeckis says that Washington “goes deep” in the role. “He has this gravitas. I couldn’t imagine anyone else but [Washington] for that part. And he just nailed it beyond my expectations.”

Whitaker is charming. He drinks, does cocaine and he sleeps around but he’s charming. The allure of this character is the layers and dimensions here. Washington not only brings a gravitas to the character but he brings ‘likeability’ to a compromised person.

Expectations and judgments are tossed in the air and we as viewers are challenged to look beyond the obvious. The film is a study of addiction but our response to a pilot-addict says a hell of a lot as well, you know?

[Ending alert: I give nothing away, as usual, but…] The film has a safe, conventional ending. That is, in my opinion, a flaw. If the ending made the viewer bewildered, unsure, confused or just plain upset – it might have been better.

I think that the film and direction are straightforward.  Everything is very good like the editing, sound and cinematography but the acting and the story really stand out. Flight is nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

In Film, review on February 9, 2013 at 9:00 am

[originally published on  January 26, 2013]


I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.

Hushpuppy, Beasts of the Southern Wild

ABOUT: Beasts of the Southern Wild is a 2012 American fantasy drama film directed by Benh Zeitlin and written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar from Alibar’s one-act play Juicy and Delicious. After playing at film festivals, it was released on June 27, 2012, in New York and Los Angeles.

Storyline: Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in the Bathtub, a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Wink’s tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he’s no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack, temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink’s health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.


Beasts of the Southern Wild is an extremely good film. I was confused for much of it and often I did not know what was real and what was imagination  – maybe that was the point. It is a girl-child’s story and like a child, I was bewildered. Ironically, because reality was so suspect, there was such authenticity here.

I own many films that I watch over and over again. I will not buy this film; I will not watch it over and over. Even though it is absolutely brilliant, this film is hard on my soul.

Like many films out there, there is an implied criticism of dominant culture. The alternative, presented here is far from ideal. The living situation is a bayou that is cut-off from the main land by a levee – living quarters are absolutely filthy.

Hushpuppy is Wink’s 6-year-old daughter. Wink’s failing health combined with his horrid temper and bizarre love for his daughter makes up her unstable world.

Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

They live in separate houses, if you could call them that. When it is ‘feeding time’ Wink rings a bell but sometimes he goes to the hospital and basically abandons her. She pretends an old shirt is her mother. She tries to burn down her house. She hides in a box and writes on the inside for posterity, like a cave dweller, while the house burns around her. Man.

According to what we see; there a torrential rainstorm, ice caps are melting and ancient beasts called aurochs are released from the ice. The community learns to survive by becoming extremely primitive.

There are themes here – pre-history, cave dwellers, and pre-historic beasts. What an interesting play this must be.

Even though the conditions are very harsh and bleak there is a freedom that we just don’t see in the shelter Hushpuppy and her father are forcibly moved to ‘for their own good.’ Hushpuppy’s combed hair and dress feel constraining, the food feels sanitized, and Hushpuppy laments at tubes tied to walls and people when they are sick. I have seen films where mainstream life feels fake – but not like this.

How does one even direct something like this? The action is volatile yet sensitive. Emotions range from bravery to terror. Things are quiet to very loud. The bayou has mud like quicksand, where do you put the camera? Shots are difficult – torrential rainstorms, arid, dry heat, boats on water, cramped living spaces…

Acting…more like BEING. There is a documentary feel to the acting. It simply doesn’t seem like they’re acting. There is a being-in-the-moment quality and frankly, I lost myself in the drama because of it.

All awards it is nominated for should win… The film is nominated for four Academy Awards at the 85th Academy Awards, in the categories Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin) and Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis). 9-year-old Wallis is the youngest ever nominee of the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Someone who saw it was cool and detached and found the filth problematic. If this describes you – stay away. However, it was without question my favorite film in years.