6 More Films From 2012: 4:44: Last Day On Earth, First Position, Flight, The Paperboy, Red Tails, and The Trouble With Bliss

Continuing my desperate attempt to review all of the 2012 films that I’ve seen but haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, here’s six more reviews.

1) 4:44: Last Day On Earth (dir. by Abel Ferrara)

Whether it’s because of the Mayan calendar or the fact the Obama got reelected, people seem to be obsessed with the end of the world right now and it’s been the subject of several recent films.  4:44: Last Day On Earth is one of the more low-key entries in this genre.

Willem DaFoe plays a New York-based actor who deals with the impending end of the world by meditating in his loft, having sex with his much younger girlfriend, and having awkward conversations on Skype with his daughter.  As opposed to the characters in several other end of the world films, DaFoe doesn’t use the situation as an excuse to go on a quest for true love.  Unlike 2012, there’s no talk of escaping the apocalypse.  Instead, the world is ending and DaFoe has no choice but to accept it.  From a cinematic point of view, DaFoe’s passivity can be frustrating (4:44 is a film that’s willing to be boring to make its point) but, at the same time, it does force a viewer like me to wonder how she would handle the end of the world in a way that a film like Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World does not.

One interesting thing that distinguishes 4:44 from other end-of-the-world films is that, in 4:44, the world ends specifically because of the actions of mankind.  Whereas films like Melancholia and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World presented a random apocalypse, 4:44 presents the apocalypse as the fitting punishment for the sins of humanity.  While I could have done without the scenes of DaFoe listening to Al Gore droning on and on about global warming (because, seriously, Gore always sounds like the creepy community college professor who you know is having an affair with one of his students), this still adds an interesting element to the film.

4:44 requires a bit of tolerance and a lot of patience but it’s still a film that’s worthy of being seen.

2) First Position (dir. by Bess Kargman)

First Position is a documentary about ballet so, of course, you know that I loved it.  The film follows six young dancers as they prepare for the Youth American Grand Prix in New York City and it brought back a lot of memories (both good and bad) for me.  First Position captures both the beauty and the pain of both dance and life.

3) Flight (dir. by Robert Zemeckis)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays a cocky and talented pilot who is also an alcoholic and a drug addict.  In a truly harrowing sequence, the plane that Washington is piloting goes into a nosedive over Atlanta.  After Washington manages to crash-land the plane with only a few fatalities, he finds himself hailed as both a hero and also under investigation.  Working with a union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a slick attorney (Don Cheadle), Washington tries to cover up his mistakes while, at the same time, romancing a recovering heroin addict (Kelly Reilly).

Flight has a brilliant opening and a strong ending.  Unfortunately, the middle of the film tends to drag.  Flight also suffers from the fact that cinematic addicts are always more fun to watch when they’re under the influence as opposed to when they’re getting sober.  On the plus side, the film itself is well-acted and the cast is always fun to watch even when the rest of the film is getting bogged down.  Washington is brilliant in the lead role and John Goodman has a great cameo as the world’s most helpful drug dealer.

4) The Paperboy (dir by Lee Daniels)

In 1960s Florida, Hillary Van Wetter (an amazingly sleazy John Cusack) is on death row for the murder of a small town sheriff.  His girlfriend, the flamboyant Charlotte Bess (Nicole Kidman), convinces reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) to return to his hometown and investigate the case against Van Wetter.  With the help of his younger brother (Zac Efron) and an arrogant colleague (David Oyelowo), Ward works to get Van Wetter off of death row but it becomes obvious that all of the film’s characters are hiding secrets of their own.

The Paperboy has a few isolated moments where it achieves a certain pulp poetry but, for the most part, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to his Academy Award-winning Precious is a total and complete mess.  Unfortunately, it’s not even all that interesting of a mess.  Nicole Kidman’s vampish performance and her white trash femme fatale outfits are definitely the film’s highlight.  As for Zac Efron, he’s not much of an actor but he’s pipin’, boilin’ hot.  It’s just  too bad the character that he’s playing isn’t that interesting.

In the end, The Paperboy showcases everything that didn’t work about Precious and nothing that did.

5) Red Tails (dir. by Anthony Hemingway)

Red Tails was one of the first “major” releases of 2012 and it’s also one of the most forgettable.  The film, which was executive produced and reportedly co-directed by George Lucas, is based on the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-Americans who served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and who had to not only fight Nazis abroad but racial discrimination at home.  There’s undoubtedly an inspiring story to be told here but Red Tails is such a predictable and corny film that it feels as if Lucas and Hemingway essentially wasted the real life story of the Tuskegee Airmen on a painfully generic movie.

6) The Trouble With Bliss (dir. by Michael Knowles)

Morris Bliss (played by Michael C. Hall) is the type of guy who always seems to show up in quirky independent films.  He has no job, he has no money, and he lives in a tiny apartment with his father (Peter Fonda).  Since there’s nothing more attractive than a middle-aged guy with no future, he finds himself being pursued by an 18 year-old (Brie Larson), who also happens to be the daughter of a former high school classmate, and his married neighbor (played by Lucy Liu).

I have a weakness for quirky indie films but the nonstop quirkiness of The Trouble of With Bliss feels less like narrative imagination and more like total desperation.  Michael C. Hall’s a likable actor but he essentially turns Morris Bliss into Dexter Morgan and, as a result, I kept expected for the trouble with Bliss to turn out to be that he had about a few dozen bodies hidden away in a closet somewhere.

Now that would have been a quirky film!

8 responses to “6 More Films From 2012: 4:44: Last Day On Earth, First Position, Flight, The Paperboy, Red Tails, and The Trouble With Bliss

  1. 4:44 is one film I’ve been meaning to watch but have been hesitant to. I’ve been waffling on it since there’s been so many end of the world-themed films just the last couple of years that they all begin to blur together.

    If what you say is true about the sort of story 4:44 is trying to tell then it’s something the other films haven’t explored yet and that’s acceptance. The other apocalyptic films since 2012 seem to go through the many stages like defiance, denial and everything in-between but never a story of someone who made the decision to just accept that the world is ending and there’s nothing to do about it but just live out one’s life. I may have to try and find 4:44 playing here in the Bay Area or barring that just wait for it on video.

    I liked Red Tails, but then only by a slim margin. For one thing its a war film and I’m a sucker for it. Call me a bloodthirsty, warmongering fool as some would call me here for it, but I like war films for the camraderie and brotherhood that builds up between soldiers and enemies alike. I, like you, am also a history buff and the story of the Tuskegee Airmen have always intrigued me.

    One thing that many seem to agree on about Red Tails is that whether its a good film or not the aerial dogfights between the Red Tail squadron and the Luftwaffe (especially once the Me-262 jets enter the fray) were well created through use of both CGI and live-action.


  2. Judging from the still above, the forthcoming end of the world at least motivates Willem Dafoe to get that flamboyant blow wave and highlight combination that he’s always wanted. He doesn’t care if you call him a nancy boy, because the world’s going to end tomorrow, anyway.

    So long as we’re discussing overrated people such as Al Gore, surely the Dalai Lama fits into the same category. He’s like Paris Hilton–does anybody know what he actually DOES all day? You can even attend one of the Dalai Lama’s dates on his world tour–so long as you’ve got a few hundred dollars to spare. I understand that some travelling shows are quite expensive to produce, but c’mon, a meeting with Dalai Lama is basically a guy in robes mumbling fortune cookie witticisms into a microphone. It’s not as if he has a steamer trunk of costumes like Grace Jones. He isn’t surrounded by pyrotechnics, a gigantic lemon and a bunch of dudes playing musical instruments. It’s the Dalai Lama we’re talking about, not a U2 concert. Why is it so expensive to listen to a man who is supposedly the antithesis of materialism?

    I did read about “Red Tails” before its release, but it never made it to Australian cinemas. Back in the day, George Lucas actually meant something. These days, he struggles to be noticed.


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  4. Accepting the “End of the World” is really no different than getting up each day and going to work, paying your bills and otherwise conforming to society: it’s all just a matter of timing, so it’s no wonder this might be a boring film.
    I like how you emphasize how interesting “cinematic” addicts are when using. An important distinction.
    Very nice reviews, thanks!


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