15 Sep 2014
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This Week at the Movies

'Flight' marks a return to form for Washington and Zemeckis, while 'The Man with the Iron Fists' is a moderately amusing, but mostly forgettable kung fu film.

This Week at the Movies

Denzel Washington gives one of his finest performances in recent years in “Flight,” which finds director Robert Zemeckis turning to significantly darker material following a decade-long stint in the world of animation.

In the film, Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a hard boozing and cocaine sniffing pilot who pulls off an impossible landing after an aircraft falls apart in mid-air. At first, Whip is viewed as a hero, but the question soon arises as to whether he was intoxicated at the time of his daring landing.

The scene in which the aircraft skydives, forcing Whip to first fly it upside down and then crash-land it in a field, is among the most harrowing sequences on a plane I’ve ever witnessed.

The intensity throughout the rest of the movie centers around whether Whip will pull himself together for a hearing on the crash. Don Cheadle is the attorney hired to kill Whip’s blood-alcohol test and Bruce Greenwood is the rep for the pilots’ union. John Goodman is also memorable in a smaller performance as Whip’s pal and drug supplier.

Washington nearly always turns in a memorable performance, but he is especially good in “Flight.” In fact, I prefer this performance to his critically lauded and Oscar winning turn in “Training Day.”

In Zemeckis’s film, Washington’s character is also a very flawed person, but he is more human than the actor’s portrayal of monstrously corrupt LAPD officer Alonzo Harris.

“Flight” also marks a return to form for Zemeckis, who was a major force in the Hollywood film industry throughout the 1980s and 1990s due to the success of “Back to the Future,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” “Forrest Gump,” the underrated “Contact” and “Cast Away.”

He took a decade-long – but slightly unconvincing - dabble in animation with “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol.” It goes without saying that his latest picture is his best in some time.

Wu Tang Clan’s RZA makes his directorial debut  - with some writing help from horror maestro Eli Roth and producing by Quentin Tarantino – with the bloody, occasionally amusing, but mostly silly “The Man with the Iron Fists.”

Those unaware with Wu Tang should know that the seminal 1990s hip hop outfit’s persona was crafted around the numerous kung fu they worshipped growing up. In other words, it’s not a stretch to find RZA, who has long been dabbling in film, to make a movie of this sort.

Right down to its titles, “Iron Fists” is reverential to the world of classic kung fu cinema. In the film, RZA plays a freed slave and blacksmith who crafts weapons for two warring clans in a remote Chinese village.

Into the picture enters a spy for the emperor (Russell Crowe), a brothel’s madam (Lucy Liu) and the son of a slain leader (Rick Yune) to prevent the leaders of the vicious Lion Clan from laying waste to the village.

Everything from limbs and eyeballs go flying during the course of the picture’s bloody fights. For a first-time director, RZA does a solid job of staging the film’s numerous sequences of combat.

In terms of plot and character, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. “Iron Fists” is fitfully fun, but not enough so for me to wholeheartedly recommend it.

"Flight" and "The Man with the Iron Fists" are both playing at Douglaston's Movie World.

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