Video Files: Denzel Washington soars in ‘Flight’

flightAfter hearing about Denzel Washington’s latest film Flight, my initial thought was, “wow, another transportation movie.” With such remakes as Taking of Pelham 123 and Unstoppable, it seemed he was stuck in a rut. But those were my impressions before seeing Flight. Watching it was the equivalent of seeing a championship fighter whose skills seemed to have diminished during a string of setup bouts return to greatness. Washington’s portrayal of pilot Whip Whitaker, a great flier whose life was collapsing under a mound of drug and alcohol use, was incredible. It rightly won him another Oscar nomination, and ranks alongside any of his previous great roles, including the two that earned him prior Academy Awards in Glory and Training Day.

Flight (Paramount) arrives on DVD Tuesday, and I would highly recommend it, even if you’ve seen it before. Just the sequence where a hung-over, high Whitaker somehow lands his plane in an amazing emergency maneuver is worth the admission or DVD price. One of the set’s featurettes is Anatomy of a Plane Crash, in which director Robert Zemeckis reveals how they filmed this sequence. There’s also a Q&A with the cast, some other “making-of” items, and other extras.

But none of this compares to the incredible performance given by Washington. He shows in magnetic fashion the impact drug and alcohol addiction have on both the individual and everyone involved with him. Whitaker’s a good man who wants to do what’s right, but can’t (or won’t) address his problems, nor accept what they’re doing to others. In addition, Zemeckis doesn’t oversimplify or muddy the film’s message. He perfectly demonstrates the complexities of addiction and human interaction, and doesn’t attempt to make this a straight morality play, or craft a predictable scenario of human triumph over frailty.

It’s doubtful Washington will win the Oscar. Conventional wisdom has Spielberg’s Lincoln walking away with multiple awards, and Daniel Day-Lewis seems a sure bet for Best Actor. But Flight shows Denzel Washington’s still capable of electrifying, exceptional performances, and that with the right material and situation, he remains among our finest actors.

Related Story – Film review: The Great Denzel Washington Takes ‘Flight’

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Muhammad Yunus has won a Nobel Prize and widespread praise for the innovative method of fiscal assistance he calls “microfinance.” This program has provided millions in loans to rural entrepreneurs who’ve in turn started successful businesses in developing countries. Everyone from “60 Minutes” to “Al-Jazeera News” has profiled Grameen America, his nonprofit organization. The documentary To Catch A Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America (Shout! Factory) spotlights Yunus’ efforts to bring this program to the United States.

Gayle Ferraro’s production was a Sundance Film Festival Selection, and is anything but the standard, dry polemic. “To Catch A Dollar” chronicles successes and failures, triumphs and major disappointments, while Yunus explains his program and tries to put it in motion in such places as Queens, New York. There’s also a fine bonus feature, “Sixteen Decisions,” which shows how one of Yunus’ microloans made a huge difference in a young woman’s life.

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Television was vastly different in 1953, when the program originally titled Letter to Loretta debuted. There were still plenty of live shows. Color broadcasting was years away, screens were small, and digital broadcasting or HD content wasn’t on the horizon. But what was later retitled The Loretta Young Show made programming history, with features that aren’t seen even today on the most ambitious cable networks.

lorettaThe Loretta Young Show was the first prime time anthology program hosted by a woman. Young introduced and closed each program, dressed in some of the finest clothes available. Initially each episode revolved around a different story idea from viewers (letters), but that was quickly dropped in favor of scenarios devised by professional writers. Still, Young played a major role in the selection of themes and actors. She also portrayed a wealth of characters during the series, while making her entrances and exits part of TV lore. The shows’ success resulted in numerous other anthology programs with female hosts in the ’50s and early ’60s. But none enjoyed either the ratings clout or longevity of The Loretta Young Show.

Timeless Media has just released a 17-DVD boxed set The Loretta Young Show – Best Of The Complete Series: 100th Birthday Edition. Besides containing the very first episode, it offers their choices of the finest programs in the series, which ran until 1961. But Young’s fans will probably enjoy the extras even more. These include a Young biography, interviews with her children, home movies from her collection, trailers of various Young films, and a candid presentation “In Her Own Words,” with Young giving her own assessment of her career.

While not for everyone (Some of these episodes are a bit heavy on the melodrama), it’s a very instructive set in terms of television’s early days, and how much the medium’s changed since then. It also shows what a dominant, versatile performer Loretta Young was during her prime, and how important her program was to NBC.

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About Ron Wynn

Ron Wynn is a music critic, author and editor. His features, reviews and articles have run locally in the Nashville Scene, The City Paper (Nashville) and on among others. Wynn is currently sports editor for the Tennessee Tribune and a contributor to Jazz Times. He is former editor of the New Memphis Star and former chief jazz and pop music critic for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Wynn has contributed to such publications such as Billboard, The Village Voice, Creem, Rock & Roll Disc, Living Blues, The Boston Phoenix, and Rejoice. He was the editor of the first edition of The All Music Guide to Jazz (1994), and from 1993 to 1994 served as the jazz and rap editor of the All Music Guide. Wynn is the author of The Tina Turner Story. He has contributed liner notes for numerous albums; his liner notes for “The Soul of Country Music” received a 1998 Grammy nomination.