Monday, January 27, 2014

Berger/Daniels/Michelson's CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO: Inside the cockpit, pre-crash -- in 3D!

I should think that pilots, co-pilots, navigators, flight attendants and others connected to the airline industry will rush out to see CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO (or maybe not, given the mostly unhappy endings to these six drama-tized black-box-transcripts that show-and-tell us of what transpired just before the landing/crash. For the rest of us, the movie is one very odd experiment. Filmed in the kind of 3D that makes Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder look like a Michael Bay special-effects extravaganza, this film has perhaps the least reason for being shot in three dimensions than anything seen so far. It's a confined-space movie, for god's sake, in which we're trapped, over and over throughout six different scenarios, in a tiny cockpit, where traffic is restricted so nobody much moves, and the set, such as it is, changes little.

The sense of "space" the movie provides us is very nearly the sense of "no space." Gravity, this ain't. (Although, once Ms Bullock is inside a space capsule, the two films begin, unfortunately, to resemble each other.) Further, the film is taken from a theater piece first staged here in NYC nearly fifteen years ago that has since traveled the country. The film's theatrical roots are never out of sight, right down to the casting -- for budget reasons, no doubt -- of the same six actors to play the 15 to 20 different roles required to fill the six episodes. You'll figure this out soon enough, and of course go with it, but the doubling and tripling of the cast members means that the film never begins to lose its on-the-cheap, off-off-Broadway quality.

As directed by the threesome of Robert Berger (above, left), Patrick Daniels (center) and Karlyn Michelson (at right), the acting, too, seemed to me to be a little off. You may notice, as did I, that no one, until I think the actual crash seems about to occur -- neither pilot, co-pilot nor anyone else -- ever bothers to look ahead directly out the window in front of him/her. Perhaps every incident taking place here happened at night, in pitch dark? As good as are these actors -- particularly Debbie Troche (who is not shown in any of the stills here) as a co-pilot with amazing ability and control -- we seldom get the sense that we're outside the theater in something approaching real life.

Along the way there are some suspenseful, grueling moments and even a little unintentional humor (watching, in a dire emergency, the co-pilot grab, open and begin to look through what appears to be a How to Fly This Plane manual, will not leave audiences feeling very assured about their next flight). And as everything here is taken verbatim from transcripts (except in a few cases when the black box-obtained dialog is condensed or changed for clarity's sake), we must conclude that this is "the way it was."

The press material for the film tells us that the movie "puts you in the cockpit." It does not. Rather, it puts us in the theater audience, first row center, as we watch these goings-on, which move from relatively "normal" to more intense to... a blackout, as each crash occurs. This is followed by an explanation of what happened and why (shown via title cards), the causes ranging from bird strikes to lousy -- no, make that deadly -- plane maintenance.  (The film's title, by the way, is evidently an acronym for "cockpit voice recorder.")

At 80 minutes, the movie still feels like a long haul. But it is something different -- that's for sure -- and something different is one of the hallmarks of NYC's Film Forum, where Charlie Victor Romeo (we might as well call this a documentary of sorts: maybe an "acted documentary") gets its U.S. theatrical premiere for a two-week run beginning this Wednesday, January 29. It will then play at the Downtown Independent theater in Los Angeles from January 31 through February 6.

Note: Meet the directors in person at Film Forum, 
as Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels & Karlyn Michelson 
 appear on Wednesday, January 29, at the 8pm show, and 
Berger & Michelson only appear on Friday, January 31 & 
 Saturday, February 1, also at the 8pm screenings.

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