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Robert Zemeckis—with the help of some massively talented special-effects artists—puts viewers on a wire more than 1,300 feet above Manhattan in The Walk, an uneven but ultimately thrilling account of Philippe Petit’s amazing 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers.

If you’ve seen Man on Wire, the documentary featuring Petit himself, you’ve seen most of what happens in The Walk. The big difference in The Walk is a stunning re-enactment of Petit’s stunt rather than still pictures. The people who crafted this film have done a terrific job of re-creating the towers, and Zemeckis really does put you on the wire with Petit.

Having grown up in Long Island, N.Y., I spent some time in, around and on top of those towers. While I can’t say what it was like to walk a wire from one building to another (I’m not insane, after all), I can tell you what it was like to stand atop one of them, or to gaze up at them, legs wobbling, from the ground—and Zemeckis absolutely nails it. Every inch of the buildings looks authentic.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sporting a French accent that sounds a lot like Sacha Baron Cohen in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, plays a very jovial Petit. The film picks up when he is a young man miming in the streets of Paris. After a visit to the dentist’s office, Petit spies a picture of the Twin Towers and immediately starts planning his “Coup.”

The buildup to the big walk is a little goofy and a tad tedious. Zemeckis utilizes a framing device that has Petit narrating from the torch on the Statue of Liberty; it feels a little trite. However, the depiction of a rusty, dirty Liberty torch is a nice authentic touch: The city cleaned up the statue about 10 years later.

After some uninteresting stuff involving Petit and a tightrope-walking circus mentor (Ben Kingsley in a useless “Obi-Wan” role), Petit goes to Manhattan and assembles his team. As soon as he gets next to those buildings, the movie soars to a new level.

With the help of some fake moustaches, as well as architect and construction-worker disguises, Petit and friends managed to study the building multiple times before actually shooting a wire between the towers with a bow and arrow—and shocking the living heck out of city-dwellers on their way to work.

The walk itself has to be one of the year’s finest examples of special effects. I watched the film in 3-D IMAX, and the last act of the movie is stunning. The buildings are perfectly replicated, and there’s a true sense of being on that wire—and being one misstep away from a very long drop.

Petit didn’t just do one walk cross and call it a day. He was on the wire for more than a half-hour, during which time he laid down on the wire, saluted the people down below, and saluted skyward like the absolute maniac he was. Sure, Evel Knievel did some messed-up stuff on his motorcycle around the same time, but “the walk” has to be the most amazing daredevil feat of the 20th century.

Levitt is fine in the central role, even if his accent is a bit distracting at times. Apparently, he trained with Petit himself and got fairly astute at wire-walking and juggling. He also taught himself how to speak French. That’s a lot of work for a movie not many are likely to see: It’s not doing well at the box office. Perhaps that’s because most people who would be interested feel they have already seen the film after taking in Man on Wire.

This is not the case: Even if you have seen the documentary, see The Walk. When it is firing on all cylinders, it’s like the most dizzying of amusement-park rides, and the final 40 minutes are some of the most fun you will have at the movies this year. You just have to wade through the pre-Manhattan, Paris-dwelling boring minutes first.

The Walk is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Twenty-five years after its release, Who Framed Roger Rabbit still looks terrific. Director Robert Zemeckis managed to combine live action with traditional animation, creating the coolest of cools.

The novelty of the film doesn’t just come from the cartoon/live-action combo. Seeing Daffy Duck sharing the screen with Donald Duck still provides a major charge for geeks everywhere. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse? Holy cow! In fact, seeing Warner Bros cartoons on the same screen as Disney favorites is as big of a pairing as De Niro and Pacino.

Zemeckis keeps teasing that a sequel will happen someday, but don’t hold your breath. He probably has a sour taste for animation after his failed campaign to make every movie in Hollywood a motion-capture CGI enterprise. (He was behind the ghastly The Polar Express and the much-better Beowulf.) I totally wish his idea to redo The Yellow Submarine in motion capture had taken off.

Special Features: You get a director’s commentary, lots of making-of docs, deleted scenes and, most notably, the stand-alone Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts. It’s a packed disc. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A reckless alcoholic who happens to really know how to fly a plane gets a rather strange and romantic screen treatment in director Robert Zemeckis' uneven but entertaining Flight.

As airline-pilot Whip Whitaker—who likes vodka, beer, cocaine, cough syrup and flight attendants to excess—Denzel Washington delivers a typically great performance. The movie is excellent in the first half-hour, but just OK after that. Even though the film drags and gets a bit melodramatic or trite in spots, Washington always manages to hold it up. That's a tough task, seeing as this one clocks in at nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The film opens with Whip, hung over to the point of still being intoxicated, waking up in a hotel room. A beautiful naked woman prances around while Whip has a tense phone conversation with his ex-wife. Washington plays this scene with a wicked finesse, especially when he leers at the nude woman while arguing with the ex. It's one of those great Denzel moments. Whip then snorts a line of cocaine, dons some sexy sunglasses and a pilot's suit, and heads off to fly a jetliner with more than 100 people aboard. (Viewers will probably do a little extra scrutinizing of their pilot the next time they get on a plane.)

The flight itself is a wonder of filmmaking. Zemeckis produced a shocking plane crash before—Tom Hanks going down in Cast Away—but this sequence is among the best he has ever directed. It's amazing enough when Whip pilots the jet through a storm during takeoff. When that plane takes a dramatic plunge later in its flight, and Whip eventually flies it upside down before gliding it to a crash-landing in an open field, it's a true pulse-racer.

The crash results in minimal casualties, and Whip is initially praised as a hero. Then people start seeing the toxicology reports.

Watching Whip deal with his alcoholism and the eventual legal proceedings gets a little tedious and, at times, ridiculous. The movie hits a real low when Whip visits his co-pilot in the hospital, who happens to be pumped up on painkillers—and far too much religion. It's a scene the movie didn't need.

I'm also not a fan of how Whip conveniently picks up on an angelic heroin addict during his hospital stay. The film chickens out here, refusing to allow Washington to simply portray a man in a downward spiral. The screenwriter just had to throw in the addict with a heart of gold to make Whip more of a romantic character.

With Flight, Zemeckis and Washington have to make a somewhat despicable man worth rooting for over the course of two-plus hours. In the end, they achieve that feat, but only because Washington is almost incapable of being totally unlikable onscreen. Heck, you still liked him when his character's evil ass was getting riddled with much-needed bullets in Training Day, right?

Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle do good work as the union representative and the lawyer trying to save Whip's career, respectively. John Goodman gets some uncomfortable laughs as Whip's buddy and drug-supplier, while Melissa Leo makes a good impression in a short time as a crash investigator.

Flight is ultimately an OK but inconsistent movie about a man's struggle with alcoholism, with a stunning plane crash thrown in. Stay tuned for Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul in Smashed, a much-better movie on the subject of substance abuse coming soon to a theater near you.

<i>Playing at a variety of theaters across the Coachella Valley.</i>

Published in Reviews