SULLY. Clint Eastwood has been directing movies for 45 years now, acting in them (less frequently, of late) for more than 60, and it shows. As much as his reverence/obsession with American heroism can occasionally obscure the fact, he knows how to tell a story on screen. American Sniper (2014) waved the flag a bit vigorously, smoothing a few of the rougher corners in its depiction of the late Chris Kyle, but Eastwood engaged so deeply with his subject that he made it a beautiful, affecting experience, nonetheless. Focusing on an even more complex, more prominent, maybe even more distinctly "American" American, J. Edgar (2011) faltered in its exploration of the mind behind the modern surveillance state. Still, it brought together a creative team that established a gorgeous, unmistakable aesthetic. With Sully, Eastwood has found a near-perfect balance: a hero who is troubled, but not too troubled, sure of himself but not above questioning his own actions. Put him down in the middle of winter in New York City, where Eastwood's stark, scrubbed lens can assimilate the harsh angles, steaming exhalations and near-claustrophobia, and you have the beginnings of something remarkable.
Sully depicts the actual events and aftermath of Jan. 15, 2009. Shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport, birds struck a commercial flight, piloted by Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), disabling both engines. Sullenberger made a successful emergency landing on the Hudson River, and all 155 passengers and crew survived with only minor injuries. The movie expands on the "Miracle on the Hudson" by starting after the fact, with Sully waking from a nightmare of crashing the plane in to a densely populated area. Even after executing a nearly impossible life-saving maneuver, he questions his own decision. Moreover, he finds himself in the spotlight, labeled a hero, which makes him visibly uncomfortable. Concurrently, he and Skiles are the subjects of an investigation to determine whether they could and should have turned the airplane around and safely landed on the ground.
There are moments in the courtroom procedural sections of the movie when I worried that Eastwood would over-politicize the National Transportation Safety Board investigative panel, turning its members into sneering gargoyles on the parapets of big government. But as much as they represent the Bad Guys, the unstoppable force, they, too, are eventually rendered with humanity and humility. That momentary flinching at the prospect of proselytizing was the only point at which I drew back from Sully in the least. It is a compact, beautifully realized, patiently told fictionalizing of a real-life event that, without aggrandizement, would have us understand the complex thoughts and emotions behind acts of heroism. While this performance doesn't call on Hanks to go quite as deep as the closing moments of Captain Phillips (2013), it does put him into an intensely introspective, conflicted headspace. It is an awesome performance, reaffirming Hanks as one of the great screen actors, and not one to cherry-pick easy parts, even this deep into a legendary career. R. 106m. FORTUNA.
LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD. Werner Herzog, a complicated, oft-parodied figure, is also one of the most singular voices in cinema history. He has said in interviews that he has no understanding of irony and would never hang art on the walls of his house. He has traveled by foot across continents. He once rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash, by sheer happenstance. That's all just fun trivia. Herzog is a seeker, a voracious learner and worker, an artist who continues to build on a long, multi-faceted career. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) are among the best known of his earlier works, largely because of the insanity of their productions. But they are also two of the wildest, most beautiful movies made in the 20th century, the work of clear-eyed madmen defying death in the service of art.
Herzog has earned a wider audience with his late-career documentaries, particularly the alternately folksy, funny, chilling Grizzly Man (2005), about the late, untrained and ill-fated naturalist Timothy Treadwell. Now, with Lo and Behold, he examines the advent of the Internet, contending rightly that it marks the single greatest change — whether positive or negative remains to be seen — in human history. With customary droll humor, humanity and brutal honesty, Herzog takes in the Internet in toto: from the "repulsive" academic corridors where, in the 1960s, the first information was transmitted via Internet, to contemporary robotics labs where sentient machines play soccer, to a hypothetical future where humanity has colonized Mars, or the Internet has become self-aware, or a solar flare has decimated global information technology. It's heady stuff but Herzog articulates complex ideas, verbally or visually, to make them more approachable. This is not the weirdest, most compelling or most finely constructed of his documentaries. It does pull back the curtain on a technology — and a notion of interconnectedness upon which we all rely — in a unique and important way, though, and is very much worth watching. PG13. 98m. MINIPLEX.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Revival of the Coen brothers' Los Angeles-stoner-noir classic. R. 117m. BROADWAY.
BLAIR WITCH. Hand-held cameras and close-up crying ruin camping all over again. R. 89m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BRIDGET JONES'S BABY. Renee Zellweger returns as the heroine, this time pregnant and unsure whether the father is her Yank fling (Patrick Dempsey) or her ex (Colin Firth). Insert Cathy "arrgh!" R. 123m.
SNOWDEN. Oliver Stone directs Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the former NSA employee turned whistleblower/traitor (depending whom you ask). R. 106m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE WILD LIFE. Animated animal-centric retelling of Robinson Crusoe. PG. 90m. BROADWAY.
BAD MOMS. Mila Kunis and scene stealers Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell land laughs as women doing battle with PTA villainesses. Just too bad that mothers having inner lives or fun is supposed to be a shock. R. 101m. BROADWAY.
DON'T BREATHE. Director Fede Alvarez's atmospheric heist-gone-wrong horror movie about teens trapped in a murderous blind man's home boasts a solid story and earned scares. R. 88m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HELL OR HIGH WATER. A pair of bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) are pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) in a fine, character-driven film about what poverty does to people. R. 102m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. A boy (Art Parkinson) battles supernatural foes with the help of odd couple Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). PG. 101m. FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. Drama about a WWI veteran and his wife (Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander) who keep a foundling instead of reporting it. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY.
MECHANIC: RESURRECTION. A one-last-job hitman movie can be big, dumb, action-movie fun, especially with Jason Statham and Tommy Lee Jones. But this is just dumb. R. 99m. BROADWAY.
PETE'S DRAGON. Fantasy tale about an orphan (Oakes Fegley) and his dragon buddy in the Pacific Northwest. With Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford. PG13. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
SAUSAGE PARTY. Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig voice a hot dog and bun, respectively, in this raunchy, gross-out funny cartoon about foods discovering they're food. R. 89m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. A family-friendly tale of rival dogs in New York City that doesn't really live up to its powerhouse cast, which includes Louis C.K., Jenny Slate and Kevin Hart. PG. 90m. BROADWAY.
SUICIDE SQUAD. This mess of semi-random violence rattles on pointlessly as DC villains take on badder guys. PG13. 123m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
WAR DOGS. Lamentably true story about reckless 20-something bros who become arms dealers. Comically stoned partying obscures the nasty reality for a more fun but less real movie. R. 114m. FORTUNA.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill