Friday, September 16, 2016

Nosh 32: 'Southside With You,' 'Sully' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER (reviews of Southside With You and Sully)
Did anyone ever make a film about the first date of Richard Nixon and Patricia Ryan? Probably not. If they did, it would surely squelch rumors that young Dick showed up in a dark limo driven by G. Gordon Liddy. That’s my idea of political humor, folks, and a little humor will spice your enjoyment of Southside With You. Chicagoan Richard Tanne’s affectionate but not shallow first film details, and gently embroiders, the 1989 debut date of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson. Three years later she became Mrs. O, and she has been an amazing First Lady.

Tanne is sharp all the way. He did excellent casting, with tall, lean, pensive but not ponderous Parker Sawyers as the future President, who salves his nerves with periodic cigarettes. Sparky, elegant Tika Sumpter achieves equal presence as Michelle, whose mom (Vanessa Bell Calloway) sizes up the new dude as “another smooth-talkin’ brother.” Michelle was wary also, and Sumpter gracefully draws out the tension of a young black lawyer in a white Chicago firm, afraid to be seen dating her new summer intern. Michelle is that lawyer. Part of the movie’s pleasure is in watching Barack, the canny intern, take charge of the occasion, as he edges brainy, skeptical Michelle into enjoying his articulate charm and suave modulations (not too blatantly packaged).

They go to an art show (his idea), then eat (his idea), then a meeting (his idea) at the community action group he led before going to Harvard. Impressed, Michelle remains suspicious, a bit taunting. After they see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, there is a slightly forced encounter with her boss, and Barack schmoozes away the tension. In the film’s credible, hard-bitten but not ghetto Southside (very few whites appear), we sense destinies looping into unison. We have all had the benefit of their mature union ( as even many Republicans will eventually come to admit). Tanne’s valentine is probably the most satisfying “date picture” since Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke found Viennese love in Before Sunrise. If this is a comfy Obama shrine, it is also a terrific date. 

Howard Hughes flew his huge, wooden “Spruce Goose” plane on Nov. 2, 1947; it was airborn for less than a minute above water, landed safely and never flew again. Let’s give more credit to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, who flew US Air’s Flight 1549 for 3 minutes and 25 seconds on Jan. 15, 2009, from La Guardia Airport to the cold, wet surface of the Hudson River. It’s the greatest flight landing on water ever, as all 155 people on board survived (but not the birds who had smashed into the jets). Sully became a world hero, New York’s favorite aviator since Charles Lindbergh, and in due time (now) he became the justified hero of Clint Eastwood’s Sully.

Isn’t this obviously a “docudrama” package? Yes and no. Sure, Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki pre-view the fabled flight in scary glimpses, and give us Sully’s nightmares of the planes smashing into Manhattan buildings (is it coincidence that the movie came out during the 15th anniversary of 9-11-01?). Later we get the full, terrifying flight, and also a shorter recap. And for suspense filler they use the FAA investigation which might have sullied Sully’s reputation for good judgment (image-wise, and factually, an insane move on a hero who’d saved lives). This is  an entirely human, not tech-driven drama, without the corny back-stories on passengers that made John Wayne’s heroic piloting n The High and Mighty seem, finally, like the rescue of multiple  TV pilots. 

I’ve criticized some past Eastwood films for their safe, boring classicism. But he’s found just the right tone, tact, balance and savvy for this better-than-headlines picture. And he has Tom Hanks to play Sully (along with fine work by Laura Linney as his wife, Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot, and Michael Rappaport as a bartender). Hanks is a Sully-right star, an unaffected craftsman who brings smart, sober analysis to every touch. He wins his wings as a man of flight who is internally grounded. It’s his best heroic role since Cast Away, and admirable in its moving integrity.

SALAD (A List)
The Twelve Best Real President Movies, in order of star-performance quality: Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln (2012); Henry Fonda as Lincoln, Young Mr. Lincoln (1939); Philip Baker Hall as Richard Nixon, Secret Honor (1984); Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson, All the Way (2016); Gary Sinise as Harry S. Truman, Truman (1995); Raymond Massey as Lincoln, Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940); Van Heflin as Andrew Johnson, Tennessee Johnson (1942); Frank Langella as Nixon, Frost/Nixon (2008); Randy Quaid as Lyndon Johnson, L.B.J: The Early Years (1987); Kenneth Branagh as Franklin Roosevelt, Warm Springs (2005); Walter Huston as Abraham Lincoln (1930); Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson, The President’s Lady (1953). Sorry, no place here for FDR: American Badass! or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (yes, they exist).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
None of the fabled Welles stagings do I long to see more than his 1937 Doctor Faustus, a vividly concentrated rehab of Marlowe, Goethe and Gounod that used “black magic” and ingenious black-cloth sets. Even rehearsals had a kind of black-orchid bloom, as when John Houseman “arrived unexpectedly with a trio of influential friends – designer Pavel Tchelitchew, the poet and novelist Charles Henri Ford, and a Russian princess.” Orson “refused to raise the curtain, shouting at Houseman about ‘Russian pederasts and international whores’ until the producer beat a hasty retreat.” (From Patrick McGilligan’s sumptuous Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane).

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
With The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in 1948, “Bogart needed ‘to prove something to himself as well as the industry and the public, who now saw him as a luminary rather than an actor’ (Stefan Kanfer). James Baldwin was partly right, that ‘one does not go to see stars act, one goes to watch them be.’ But that truth took a U-turn in Treasure. Dobbs was a transgressive leap. In entering the alienation pit with Fred C. Dobbs, Humphrey D. Bogart did what leading stars don’t do. He became a paranoid pustule of Marx’s Lumpenproletariat.” (From the Humphrey Bogart/Treasure of the Sierra Madre chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Burt Lancaster starts to feel the preacher spirit in Elmer Gantry (United Artists, 1960; director Richard Brooks, cinematographer John Alton).

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

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