MOVIE BUFF-ET: Directors deliver compelling dramatizations in Deepwater Horizon, Sully

Tom Hanks in Sully / Warner Bros. Entertainment

Generally films featuring dramatizations of true events make me groan. It’s a bias I developed by watching too many poorly produced, made-for-TV movies as a kid that doted on true-life stories.

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However, two of the better movies in theaters now are extremely well made, big-budget dramatizations of relatively recent news stories, Sully and Deepwater Horizon.


Sully is a hero’s tale told by a Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood that stars a Hollywood legend Tom Hanks. Wearing his producer and directing cap, Eastwood not only dramatizes the January 2009 emergency landing of a commuter jet, on the Hudson River by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks), but also delves into the investigation of Sully’s decision-making process in electing to do so.

The National Transportation Safety Board questioned Sullenberger’s judgment in electing to use a water landing based on preliminary data reported by the jet’s flight equipment. The data seemed to point out that such a drastic measure did not need to be taken regardless of how successful it was.

Hanks and supporting actor Aaron Eckhart, who plays Sully’s co-pilot Jeff Skiles, are totally believable in the film as two men who made critical decisions in a span of seconds that saved the lives of 155 persons, but also men who are haunted by the stress they endured.

The dichotomy of Sully being hailed a hero by the media while at the very same time being raked over the coals by his industry for possible incompetence is compelling and intense. Eastwood wonderfully crafted what is ultimately an uplifting story, but it also underscores that acts of heroism can come with grueling consequences.

Grade: B+

Deepwater Horizon

Mark Whalberg in Deepwater Horizon / Photo by David Lee, Lionsgate

In no way, shape or form can Deepwater Horizon be described as an uplifting tale, but director Peter Berg’s skill is in full display in this captivating and suspenseful disaster film starring Mark Whalberg, John Malkovich, and Kurt Russell.

The Deepwater Horizon was the oilrig that suffered an explosion in 2010 that resulted in what is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Eleven persons were killed in the tragedy, and Berg (Lone Survivor and Friday Night Lights) dramatizes those events in striking fashion.

Berg buys a lot of good will with the casting of Russell as Jimmy Harrell, the rig’s gruff but big-hearted boss, and Wahlberg as a no-nonsense yet charming electrician Mike Williams. Adding Malkovich as slimy BP executive Donald Vidrine was a perfect touch. The arrogance, condescension, and villainy of Malkovich’s performance is strong enough to set off an explosion.

Wahlberg and Russell’s characters warn of impending disaster with all the shortcuts the BP suits are mandating, but Malkovich turns a deaf ear in pursuit of profits.

Supporting players Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee, and Dylan O’Brien create an atmosphere of camaraderie among the crew, giving the film heart that’s very effective when the disaster does explode. Likewise country music star Trace Atkins’ aggressive performance in a small role nails the frustration and anger felt by the family members of the victims.

Berg and his crew’s depiction of the explosion are as intense, compelling and frightening as any on-screen disaster in recent memory. My lasting impression of the explosion was hell on water.

Grade: B+

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Photo by Jay Maidment, Twentieth Century Fox

Tim Burton’s latest movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children isn’t a bad film. I’m sure fans of the young-adult novels it is based on will quite enjoy having their favorite characters lovingly adapted to the screen.

However, with so many fantastical stories populating the theaters these days, Burton’s film suffers from overkill. Again there is nothing bad about the movie, but then there’s nothing particularly great or original about it either.

It feels like a mash-up of the X-Men and Narnia movies, and while it does have some Burton-esque flourishes, they just don’t seem as odd or distinctive as they once did.

Grade: C

Classic Corner

If you want to get into the Halloween mood with the kids, here are some fun options the whole family might enjoy.

The Halloween Tree
The Halloween Tree is a Daytime Emmy Award-winning animated adaption of Ray Bradbury’s 1972 novel that tells the story of four young friends supernaturally whisked away on a Halloween journey through space and time in search of the soul of their friend Pip, who is deathly ill. On that journey, the four friends discover the origins of Halloween by visiting various cultures around the world. The movie was produced by Hanna-Barbera and is wonderfully narrated by the author. It’s spook fun.

Mad Monster Party
Rankin/Bass, the company that produced the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, created this 1967 stop-motion animated film that features the voice talents of Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller, and Allen Swift. Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Karloff) calls a meeting of the World Organization of Monsters on the Isle of Evil and his nephew Flanken, a Jimmy Stewart type voiced by swift, is invited, too. From there monstrous hilarity ensues. Mad Magazine creators Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman designed the characters and wrote the script respectively.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
When the steam ran out of Universal Studios’ series of monster films in the mid-1940s, director Charles Barton developed the idea of having Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) menace the studio’s top comedy duo, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. As odd as the idea may have been, it made for comedy gold. Both The American Film Institute and Reader’s Digest rank the 1948 film among their 100 best comedies, and in 2001 the U.S. Library of Congress registered it as culturally historical and aesthetically significant. It’s a fun movie and a fine way to introduce the Universal monsters to kids.

The Monster Squad
The Monster Squad is basically what if the Goonies met the Universal Monsters in 1987. The movie may be a bit scary and naughty for younger kids, but it should be right in the wheelhouse of most tweens. It’s a familiar plot with the Dracula-led monsters out to take over the world with only a group of precocious kids standing in the way.